Plans to add a health centre to the Abbotsford campus’ Student Union Building are moving forward, with a tentative opening date of fall 2016. As currently planned, the health centre will open for two days a week to start.
“The health centre is going to be an on-campus health centre / medical centre [and] first point of contact for students on campus,” Student Union Society (SUS) president Thomas Davies explained.
The purpose of the health centre will be to provide a regular clinic for students that don’t have their own.
“Access to family physicians is tough in this region, and many people are using walk-in clinics. And there are wonderful doctors there, but there’s not the same familiarity,” Davies says. “For domestic students, it will provide an easy, accessible place that they can regularly go if they don’t have a family physician, or even if they just need someone on campus when they’re here.”
Domestic students aren’t the only ones that SUS hopes will take advantage of the new centre. Davies explains that international students who don’t have a regular doctor of their own in Canada will benefit from the service as well.
“For international students who are coming, and of course don’t have a resident place to go, it will provide a very easy location to get the base line medical services at no cost — it’s part of the services offered,” he says.
The centre will function as a basic general practice (GP) office, but SUS is working with UFV’s counselling department to bring in psychologists as well. The centre will provide care in six areas of health: psychological and emotional health, sexual and reproductive health, routine medical care, pre-existing conditions, sports medicine, and vaccination services.
The centre, which will be on the third floor of the Student Union Building, will be structured like a regular health clinic.
“It’ll be like a small doctor’s office,” Davies says. “You’d come in and there’d be a reception area, a desk, some waiting chairs, and two examination rooms.”
The service will be no extra cost to students. All costs will be covered by the province, and students will have access to health care by providing a BC Care Card.
“You see the doctor, and the doctor bills the medical system for seeing you,” Davies says. “When that bill comes back, part of that goes to the doctor, directly paying the doctor, and part of that goes to the clinic, paying for receptionist, the basic equipment supplies. That’s the model followed by all public doctor’s offices, and the same principle will be applied here.”
SUS began the planning process for the health centre in 2014, and had help from a business research class on campus to get student feedback. Over time, Davies notes that the plans for the centre have changed.
“It just wasn’t sustainable, what we were doing at that time, so it went on the back burner,” he said. “It wasn’t working out at that time.”
But with some help from UFV faculty members, including Joanne MacLean, the dean of health sciences, and Dr. Darin Cherniwchan, a local travel doctor, the centre’s plans are now nearly realized.
“[Dr. Cherniwchan] saw how he could help develop this, and that’s how it moved to the proposal that we now have,” Davies says.
While the centre will have registered medical professionals on-site at all times when it is open, Davies is hoping to work further with the Faculty of Health Sciences to create opportunities for students to complete their practical training.
“[Health science students] have practical training requirements, and we can rotate them through the health clinic to provide them experience and, of course, serve students as well,” he says.
Although SUS will focus on providing training for UFV students, there is potential that the centre could also serve as a training ground for UBC residency students, due to Dr. Cherniwchan’s work with UBC’s medical program.
While a free health centre will be new to UFV, it’s common at other universities. Larger schools, like UBC and McGill, have hospitals on campus, and many smaller universities also provide health care services to students. Each university’s medical practices vary; Davies notes that “Everyone tries something a little different depending on what specifically they need. For us, we’re starting small, just by doing the basic GP style services which are in demand here and people need access to.”
While the centre won’t be nearly as large as UBC’s or McGill’s, Davies can see it expanding in the future based on student demand.
“We’re going to be continually assessing what’s suited here, and then looking [at] how other people have done it successfully and drawing on those experiences,” he said.
With over 6,000 students on UFV’s Abbotsford campus each semester, Davies can see student demand increasing, but he believes that starting small is in the best interest of students at this time.
“We are starting small deliberately; we’re not trying to build a new medical centre because that would be a risk,” he says. “By starting small and anticipating that the demand will be high for the scope that it is, it’ll be able to expand in the days and times being offered and services, as campus dictates.”