Best med­i­cal re­search, worst med­i­cal care

Only one un­der­staffed clinic cares for all out-of-prov­ince stu­dents

The McGill Daily - - Commentary - Quinta Seon Com­men­tary Writer Quinta Seon is a U0 stu­dent. To con­tact the au­thor, email

We’ve all been there — anx­ious and em­bar­rassed over some bod­ily func­tion that is just not go­ing right, search­ing WEBMD, and hop­ing it is noth­ing se­ri­ous. Luck­ily for some peo­ple, they have fam­ily doc­tors to turn to for med­i­cal ad­vice and as­sur­ance. Out- of- prov­ince Cana­dian stu­dents at Mcgill, how­ever, of­ten do not have that com­fort to fall back on. Many are left with only two re­sources: turn to the Mcgill Health Clinic, or pay out- of-pocket at a se­lect few other clin­ics un­til their in­sur­ance re­im­burses the cost.

With over 40,000 stu­dents at Mcgill, twenty per cent of whom are out- of- prov­ince stu­dents, I have ob­served an av­er­age of three sec­re­taries at re­cep­tion and three nurses in of­fice per day. Look­ing at Mcgill’s own statis­tics of growth, there has been an ob­vi­ous dis­re­gard of the stu­dent to clinic ra­tio ( 20,000: 1, in­clud­ing in­ter­na­tional stu­dents). As for staff, the ad­min­is­tra­tion says they have a chief of staff and a “ros­ter” of twenty-three doc­tors, but they fail to re­al­ize stu­dent care is not a game. Even for foot­ball, the “ros­ter of play­ers” can­not choose to not show up to a game; they have a guaranteed sched­ule. Hav­ing no per­ma­nent physi­cians on staff there is no guaranteed ap­point- ment sched­ule, es­pe­cially if there are emer­gen­cies at the doc­tor’s ac­tual job. Stu­dents don’t want these “sec­ond- stringer” doc­tors.

On top of the un­pre­dictable ap­point­ments, there is also no guar­an­tee of hav­ing the right doc­tor — one who is trained and familiar with your spe­cific con­di­tion. Out of prov­ince stu­dents, can­not af­ford to be given in­ac­cu­rate re­fer­rals — an in­ac­cu­rate re­fer­ral could mean a stu­dent pay­ing for tests that cost a month’s rent ($100 to $500), and still not be­ing prop­erly di­ag­nosed. Mcgill’s dis­re­gard for stu­dent health has re­sulted in an in­ef­fi­cient, over­booked, and un­der­staffed clinic.

The av­er­age out- of- prov­ince stu­dent, who of­ten faces fi­nan­cial con­straints, can­not sim­ply turn to an­other pub­licly run clinic or seek a Régie de l’as­sur­ance mal­adie du Québec (RAMQ) card, as some be­lieve. Plenty of clin­ics in Mon­treal refuse to take in­sur­ance from other prov­inces, know­ing that what can be cov­ered varies widely from prov­ince to prov­ince. Since it takes a min­i­mum res­i­dence of three months, an of­ten lengthy bu­reau­cratic process, and sac­ri­fic­ing one’s home-prov­ince in­sur­ance to at­tain Que­bec health in­sur­ance, many out- of-prov­ince stu­dents are wary to make the switch, es­pe­cially in their first year, which is of­ten filled with un­cer­tainty and vul­ner­a­bil­ity. In ad­di­tion, the com­pul­sory stu­dent ser­vices fee does not pro­vide al­ter­na­tive med­i­cal in­sur­ance other than ac­cess to the Mcgill clinic.

Set­ting ap­point­ments with the pro­vided clinic can make stu­dents feel hope­less. Nor­mally, when book­ing doc­tor’s ap­point­ments, a ten to fif­teen minute wait on the phone is a sad re­al­ity. Mcgill stu­dents, how­ever, some­times wait thirty min­utes — which of­ten means mak­ing a call at 10: 01 a. m. ( phone lines open at 10: 00 a. m.), lis­ten­ing to Jo­hann Sébastien Bach for forty min­utes, and then hang­ing up. Stu­dents are familiar with pre- recorded apolo­gies about not be­ing able to an­swer the phones, or be­ing told that there are no ap­point­ments avail­able for the fore­see­able fu­ture as a re­sult of an over­bur­dened “drop- in” sys­tem. If lucky enough to speak with staff, stu­dents can ex­pect a twoto-four week wait for an ap­point­ment with a doc­tor.

When ex­pe­ri­enc­ing symp­toms of one of the ail­ments that the Mcgill Clinic con­sid­ers “ur­gent” enough for drop-in at­ten­tion (i.e. sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions, fever, yeast in­fec­tion), the search for an ap­point­ment has be­come al­most com­pet­i­tive. Some stu­dents hus­tle into the Stu­dent So­ci­ety of Mcgill Uni­ver­sity build­ing to wait in queue at 7:00 a.m out­side the clinic. Once the doors open, drop-in slots for the day are quickly booked and are of­ten full by 9:00am, but re­quire stu­dents to come back at var­i­ous times of the day for their “same- day ap­point­ment.” Nurses are avail­able to con­sult and triage through­out the day, upon re­quest. Dur­ing week­ends and hol­i­days there is no ser­vice, and it is not un­com­mon to ex­pe­ri­ence de­lays be­cause of lack of re­place­ment staff.

In the­ory, this ap­point­ment, drop-in, and triage sys­tem cur­rently in place could work; how­ever, Mcgill’s un­der­staffed per­for­mance cov­ers the gap­ing wound of the clinic’s prob­lems with a tiny Bar­bie band-aid. To make care more ac­ces­si­ble and easy to nav­i­gate, per­ma­nent doc­tors should be on staff, and the nurse triage pro­gram should be ex­panded to help with the ap­point­ment- set­ting co­nun­drum. It would be ef­fec­tive and re­as­sur­ing for stu­dents to out­line their con­cerns to a trained pro­fes­sional and be re­ferred to the cor­rect re­source, whether it be the clinic or oth­er­wise. Nurses have the knowl­edge to prop­erly pri­or­i­tize con­di­tions and give doc­tors in­for­ma­tion on their pa­tients. Drop-in pa­tients would ben­e­fit with shorter wait-times and back­log­ging, and ap­point­ment pa­tients would fi­nally get ap­point­ments. Thank­fully, the clinic is al­legedly hir­ing a Nurse Prac­ti­tioner to be a per­ma­nent med­i­cal re­source, but this is not enough. Mcgill Stu­dent Ser­vices should also con­sider a sec­ond clinic — to have one ded­i­cated to ur­gent care, and one to ap­point­ments — or at the very least, an af­fil­i­a­tion with a pub­licly-run clinic.

With their al­ter­na­tive op­tions be­ing se­verely lim­ited, out- of-prov­ince stu­dents rely upon the Mcgill Health Clinic, and it is cur­rently failing to meet their needs. The school must make some changes, whether it be a sec­ond clinic or larger body of staff, to make sure ev­ery stu­dent re­ceives proper med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

The av­er­age out-of-prov­ince stu­dent, who of­ten faces fi­nan­cial con­straints, can­not sim­ply turn to an­other pub­licly run clinic or seek a RAMQ card, as some be­lieve.

Conor Nick­er­son | The Mcgill Daily

Signs at the Mcgill Clinic’s fa­cil­i­ties.

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