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​IMAGINE Health: A CMA-sponsored community of interest

Communities of interest are a way for physicians, medical learners, patients and health care professionals to connect and share resources, experiences and best practices − across Canada.

In 2018, the CMA created a grant program to help support new and existing communities. In July, five grants were awarded to CMA members building communities around the following topics: Indigenous health, equity in medicine, substance use, medical assistance in dying, and medical care for vulnerable populations.

This is the second in a series of profiles of each CMA-sponsored community of interest.

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On a crisp, clear Saturday morning, a volunteer sets up a sandwich board outside the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre. The sign reads “No ID, no OHIP, no fees required”, a message that sums up the mandate for IMAGINE Health – a student-run walk-in clinic located in downtown Toronto. 

“Anyone can come in whether they have a health card or not, and they can get a free assessment by the team,” says Sparsh Shah, a third-year medical student who started volunteering at IMAGINE during his first year.

On this morning, Shah and about 10 other student volunteers are gathered in a board room to learn about the incoming patients. The students represent a variety of professions: medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy and social work. But they come together with the same goal, to improve the health and wellness of marginalized people who face barriers accessing high quality health care services and supports.

“We can provide the patient with advice on how to manage their (health) issue, give them medications or direct them to community resources that might be helpful,” explains Shah. Since opening its doors in 2010, IMAGINE Health’s student-run model has been a success. Students gain valuable educational and clinical experience. Patients-in-need receive quality care from a team of young professionals at no cost.

So how to build on this success? The directors at IMAGINE were grappling with this question, looking for ways to expand outside Toronto, and to tap into the knowledge and experience of former volunteers – residents and medical staff who could no longer work at a ‘student-run’ clinic, but who wanted to stay involved.

“We thought about expanding the organization beyond what it is right now, which is a student club, to a not-for profit organization in which the IMAGINE alumni can come back,” says Shah.

Inspired by this vision, Shah applied for a CMA Communities of Interest Grant, to help establish IMAGINE as a hub for information-sharing and discussions about medical care for vulnerable populations. His team was awarded the grant and are now working to establish their community.

Shah sees similar clinics from across Canada taking part in the IMAGINE community of interest – sharing positive ways they’ve managed patients or sharing tips from less successful visits. Members can also share strategies on how to run a clinic more efficiently, how to increase the volume of patients or improve volunteer satisfaction.

“We primarily work in silos. We sometimes share information, but it’s pretty rare,” says Shah. “Opening up those communication channels will lead to a very important community of interest that can more effectively tackle the problems we’re looking to face.”

Ultimately, Shah hopes the community of interest will inspire student-run clinics like IMAGINE to pop up at universities around the country.

“Right now, we’re just a clinic based in Toronto that operates on Saturdays. What we want to do with the grant is get past Toronto and make IMAGINE a central hub for individuals who share the same passion in terms of breaking down barriers to health care access.”

To learn more or join the community of interest on medical care for vulnerable populations, contact yourvoice@cma.ca.

Forward any comments about this article to: cmanews@cma.ca.