Residents' Page - Alberta Doctors' Digest
PARAdime: Resident physicians support some of Alberta's most vulnerable through annual community campaign
February 16, 2017
Contributed by: Adele Duimering, MD | PGY 3, Radiation Oncology, University of Alberta
On a chilly February day last year, I had the opportunity to tour the Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS) in Edmonton. Since 1981, YESS has opened its doors to provide shelter, food and support to youth in need. My colleagues from the Professional Association of Resident Physicians of Alberta (PARA) and I had spent the past 10 weeks collecting donations for the shelter in our annual PARAdime campaign. We were pleased to contribute a van load of clothing, toiletries, school supplies and food items, generously donated by resident physicians and health care colleagues at hospitals around the city.
Once again, resident physicians are collecting PARAdime donations at 15 hospitals in six cities across the province. In early February, resident physicians in each city will deliver these items to local community organizations:
- YESS in Edmonton
- Calgary Drop-In and Rehabilitation Centre
- Safe Harbour Society in Red Deer
- HIV North in Grande Prairie
- Wood’s Homes in Lethbridge
- Salvation Army Family Support Services in Medicine Hat
Now in its eighth year, the resident physician-driven PARAdime campaign endeavors to support some of Alberta’s most vulnerable individuals, while increasing awareness amongst health care workers of the challenges faced by some of their patients. Indeed, resident physicians encounter social barriers to health every day in practice. An elderly lady living independently fails to cope with self-care and neglects to take her medications. A self-employed gentleman from Grande Prairie hesitates to forfeit income to undergo prostate cancer treatment in Edmonton. A pregnant 17-year-old girl with no family support is inconsistent in attending prenatal appointments. A young intravenous drug abuser presents with infectious endocarditis, but he discharges himself prior to antibiotic completion to care for his dog.
Some of the common challenges in such patient encounters are low income, unemployment, disability, food or housing insecurity and lack of social supports. From medical school, we’ve been trained to elicit a social history, which reveals the more obvious of these social determinants of health. The subtler – abuse, illiteracy, HIV – may easily remain in the shadows.
Why is it important to address social barriers to health? In short, it makes a difference. We know that preventative health care is at least as important as disease treatment, and even small contributions to improving wellness in vulnerable populations can ripple out to improve health equity – the ability of populations to achieve their full health potential without being disadvantaged by such things as age, race, gender, sexual orientation, social class or level of education.
When shelter, clothing and meals are provided to a young person who is living on the streets, he or she is afforded the support to return to school or seek out a job. From a societal standpoint, by helping vulnerable individuals bring greater stability and comfort into their lives, we are promoting healthy communities and by extension, we are relieving some pressure on our stressed health care system.
In overseeing one of the PARAdime hospital collection bins, one unexpected benefit I’ve experienced is how the campaign brings people together. Our wicker collection basket, decked out in red Christmas ribbon, is a focal point in our office area. It leads housekeepers, nurses, radiation therapists and even the occasional curious patient to stop by to inquire what we are up to. This has segued into some interesting discussions on patient needs and has organically enhanced workplace collaboration and collegiality. The items we’ve collected have been thoughtful and diverse – toiletries, new socks and underwear, winter clothing, candle and soap gift sets, among others. Even the more unique donations like Christmas decorations will surely bring cheer to a family in need.
Touring the colorful sun-filled rooms of the YESS shelter, it is easy to picture how each item collected in the PARAdime campaign might assist a young person to succeed: an outfit for a job interview, a backpack to carry to work, notebooks for school, granola bars for packed lunches and so forth. In combination with YESS’s programs, with objectives ranging from helping young people to set and achieve goals, to building healthy coping skills, it is inspiring to see how these PARAdime donations may directly benefit those in need in our community. In parallel, via the five other wonderful organizations PARA has partnered with across the province, PARAdime will continue to contribute in a small but meaningful way to the wellness of some of Alberta’s most vulnerable.
As physicians, many of us have never had to worry about lacking access to basic necessities. It can be easy from this privileged perspective to forget that for those in poverty, taking a medication or making it to a doctor’s appointment can take a back seat to finding food to eat or a place to sleep. To properly care for the whole person, we as physicians must not only recognize, but seek to address these barriers so many face.
At the core of our residency training are the CanMEDS competencies, which list “health advocate” as one of the basic abilities that physicians require to effectively meet the health care needs of the people they serve. As physicians we have the privilege of being entrusted with our patients’ struggles, so we are in a unique position to leverage this knowledge and our influence to advocate for these needs, and bring about positive change on an individual or population level.
I’d encourage all health care workers to strive to support their patients and communities, speak on behalf of those who cannot and call for change when required. Whether through the PARAdime campaign or by other means, advocacy should be seen as a physician’s duty.
For more information on or to contribute to this year’s PARAdime campaign, please visit www.para-ab.ca/paradime-campaign.