Whitecourt clinic makes it easier for youth to seek confidential medical advice

(Edmonton) It’s clear that medical students at the University of Alberta understand the need for more youth-centred health-care services in rural areas.

Samantha Stasiuk and Cameron Sklar, both third-year students in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, have started a new youth clinic in Whitecourt with the aim is of serving patients between 13 and 25. This is a much needed initiative, identified by the students as part of their curriculum, because in small towns it can be difficult for youth to go to the local hospital for confidential medical advice because of a lack of anonymity.

“We thought it was really important to foster an environment where teens could come to the clinic without seeing their neighbour or their mom’s best friend—a safe place to seek health care, with extended hours,” said Stasiuk.

The clinic runs Tuesdays between 4–7 p.m., the perfect time for students to get there after school. With the help of their preceptor, Tahmeena Ali, Stasiuk and Sklar have been treating about five patients a shift. This has moved up from three a week and they say they’ve been tracking how youth have heard about the clinic, all through word-of-mouth in the community.

“When you consider teaching time and the complexity of the cases that we’re seeing, we’re fairly happy with the patient numbers,” said Stasiuk. “We’ve been hearing only positive things from the community so far.”

The hope is to make youth feel comfortable accessing health care, with the ultimate goal of young people reaching out for preventative health care instead of waiting until things become dire.

“Sam and Cam are younger, so hopefully the similarity in age makes them more approachable, especially on topics on the forefront for youth: contraception, unplanned pregnancy and STI (sexually transmitted infection) screening,” said Ali.

Stasiuk and Sklar are in Whitecourt as part of the Rural Integrated Community Clerkship, which sees third-year medical students placed in rural communities. This initiative was set up to help promote practicing medicine in underserved rural communities.

“It’s a completely different way of learning in a clerkship; they’re in the communities for nine months learning all the core disciplines of medicine in an integrated fashion and getting to know their patients and their communities,” said Jill Konkin, associate dean of community engagement for the faculty. “This project speaks to how Cam and Sam have been able to look at a community and identify a need and do something to try and fill it.”

Stasiuk and Sklar are in Whitecourt until May. At that point, Stasiuk says, the clinic will be re-evaluated and may be carried on by next year’s medical students.

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