Medical Students Develop Innovative Program To Address Healthcare Disparities Within Their Community

MacHealth DNA Program

Two graduating McMaster University students have forever changed the relationship between inter-city patients and their doctors in the community.


The Hamilton Spectator’s “Code Red” series chronicles the serious problem of healthcare disparities within the Canadian Hamilton community, and students Avi Sarker and Kevin Singh decided it was finally time to do something about it. The pair recognized that issues such as lower life expectancy, increased hospital readmissions, and low birth rate plagued residents of lower socioeconomic status, but also realizes that as medical students there were various resources at their disposal.

Their solution was MacHealth DNA, a partnership between the Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre and the university’s school of medicine that has already started to address the health care needs of the urban community.

It’s one thing to read about it; it’s another thing to actually be there. It really is humbling,” says Sarker. “Many people don’t have guarantees of meals or shelter. They’ve been ostracized from the community. The Urban Core has been an opportunity for them to start fresh, and it’s really been a positive environment for us to learn.

The program follows a clinical approach, wherein patients meet with medical students to discuss their healthcare concerns under the supervision of a licensed physician. Additional wellness programs also take place at the clinic, such as smoking cessation, pregnancy care, nutrition, and diabetes management. The frequency of these program is every Tuesday and Thursday with one weekend a month, which allows medical students to follow up with their patients and provide effective long-term care.

With a doctor, patients can sometimes be intimidated. But with the students, people are opening up. You really learn about the impact you can have as an individual. When people hear that you’re a McMaster medical student, there’s a lot of trust put in that — in what we’re trained to do, how to talk to people, how to develop a rapport.  At the end of the day that’s what McMaster students do better than anyone else

Though the program started out as a pilot, MacHealth DNA is now a permanent fixture of the university with new students eagerly applying to volunteer with the program. With Singh and Sarker both moving on to their residency, they have aspirations to continue focusing on inner city health, and also hope to see the program expand to McMaster’s graduate school.

Sierra Kennedy
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