May. 18, 2005 - Issue #500: Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art
The SHINE forms here
Unique volunteer-run clinic caters to city's low-income youth
“Hey,” I called. “Are you Ashish?” He was, he said. He held the door open for us, but was immediately swarmed by a group of eager volunteers waiting inside.
A man asked me for change while I held the door open for the photographer, who was doing whatever it is that photographers do. “I don’t have any,” I said. The man smiled at me, and walked into the shade of the Boyle-McCauley clinic. He was not there for services, but some of the younger people were. They would clamber to attention when I opened the doors periodically, to see where the photographer had gone off to. “It will be open very soon,” I said. They seemed pleased.
The Boyle-McCauley clinic caters to low-income patients, but the overwhelming demand for their services forces them to turn patients away every day. Inside the clinic, now closed for the day, twentysomething volunteers swarm like mice. Ashish is speaking with a cluster of people. The lights are off, but natural light penetrates the room where it can. It’s a bright, blue, springish day outside. Inside it is brownish and dim. “I’m sorry,” Ashish says. “I didn’t know these people would be here so soon.” We sit and talk in some waiting-room chairs. The din rises. People are carrying supplies, signs, tables. The SHINE clinic opens after the Boyle-McCauley clinic closes.
“We’re a fully-functioning medical and dental clinic,” says Ashish, whose last name is Mahajan and who is the clinic’s director. Catering to low-income youth, the SHINE clinic has secured $60,000 in funding from Capital Health and the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, in equal parts. The funding is slated for the clinic’s first full year of operations, and will not be quite enough to cover expenses. But Mahajan, who is in his second year of medicine at the University of Alberta, assures me that the clinic will fundraise for the additional operating revenue—the clinic will probably require about $10,000 more for its first year. “We don’t want to introduce this service and then take it away,” he says. Student Health Initiative for the Needs of Edmonton, or SHINE, is not a temporary initiative.
The clinic is there to service low-income youth who are turned away from other facilities, such as the Boyle-McCauley, due to extensive demand. Offering such additional services as dental care and access to social workers, it is a one-of-a-kind operation. “There’s a similar clinic in Vancouver,” explains Mahajan. “But we’re the only clinic of this kind in Canada to really focus on youth.”
Mahajan got the idea from a classmate who had heard of a similar clinic in the United States and brought the idea back to class. “There was a lot of interest,” he says. “So we did a needs appraisal and started writing to other faculties, and the initiative just grew.”
There are people wearing white labcoats, people standing behind the reception desk. This is the activity of a health clinic before it opens. No one is slogging about. No one is listless. There’s an unmistakable energy here, and there is youth: no one here looks over 30. Mahajan and a handful of staff have assembled on the patio at the requst of a photographer from another publication; inside things are calm, which is odd: the clinic opens in 10 minutes. There is a roomful of women, near the back of the clinic, doctors and student doctors. They are polite and articulate.
“The big thing that attracted me to the SHINE clinic is that you get to service a variety of different needs,” says Sheila Caddy, a third-year medical student at the University of Alberta. “You’re working with a marginalized population in a community, but also teaching other students and facilitating their interests. I really like the idea of passing on the information I have, which is limited because I’ve been in clinics for less than a year.”
Caddy’s demeanour is typical of the volunteers at SHINE: inexperienced but eager. And capable. Anna Lundeen is another volunteer; she’s a fourth-year nursing student at the University of Alberta. “I first heard about SHINE through a classmate of mine,” she explains. “I love working with youth. It’s the population I like working with the most, and I’m very interested in pursuing a career in community health. This offers me career development as well as a means to provide a service to the community.”
There’s a feeling that things have been set into place: a reception table is set up at the doors along with a SHINE clinic sign, and the sense of pandemonium has subsided. No one is running, as they were just minutes ago; a sort of calm has settled over the place, a responsibility to the job. People have taken their places. Outside, patients are waiting.
When we leave, the lights are not yet on. The Boyle McCauley clinic beams proudly toward the street. Folks walk lazily in the neighbourhood. This is not where the aristocracy of Edmonton spends its Saturdays. I’m asked for change twice on the walk to the car. Inside the Boyle, dozens of this city’s brightest and most-abled are working on an idea: the idea that healthcare is universal. That you are a person whether rich or poor, and that we all have the same rights. In my rear view mirror I see the door open. I see the queue outside rush the door, just as the volunteers had rushed Ashish Mahajan when we’d arrived. V
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