Imagine a place where Toronto’s homeless and other marginalized groups can access free medical care without needing any ID.
With the help of a group of University of Toronto student volunteers, that place exists.
“I think we all write in our entrance essays that we want to help people, we want to help support the community,” says Enoch Ng, co-director at IMAGINE. “But once we start our training we hit the books really hard and it’s hard to forget all that.”
Each Saturday, the IMAGINE clinic, located at 168 Bathurst St., opens its doors from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
In the past, the clinic was staffed by four students, each supervised by a professional from their area of study: medical, nursing, pharmacy and social work. As of January, the clinic also offers physical therapy.
The students don’t get school credit, and neither the students nor the preceptors get paid.
“It’s like a part-time job because we work 10 to 15 hours a week,” says Yick Kan Cheung, co-director of IMAGINE.
It’s a serious commitment of time by the volunteers, IMAGINE clinic adviser Lorraine Ferris says, especially since the students also need to focus on their studies.
“A big lesson for me is that when you have such talented students that are really enthusiastic and they set their mind on where they want to go, they can do it,” she says.
Cheung estimates they see about two to 11 patients depending on the day and says both the students and the preceptors volunteer because they enjoy the work and want to give back to the community.
“I said I wanted to be part of this project before I even heard all the details,” says Marie Rocchi, an adviser to IMAGINE and one of the pharmaceutical preceptors.
The experience is beneficial for the students, Rocchi says, because they don’t get assessed. Rather they discuss every decision with professionals to collectively give their patients the best care.
It’s an environment where students can learn from one another and are exposed to different kinds of jobs available in health care, Cheung and Ng say.
“We’re trying to incorporate extra services,” Ng says. “We’re working to get dentists and dentistry students involved, social support groups and foot care. We’re also trying to have the clinic open for the entire year, because right now it’s only open during the academic year.”
IMAGINE’s organizers would also like to expand to another clinic, but right now that’s not possible, Ng says.
Though offers have come in from other community centres, Ng says they currently don’t have the resources. The clinic is funded entirely by donations, largely from student bodies and organizations, and sometimes from private donors, he says.