Young people avoid going to a doctor for many reasons: fears of social stigma, worry about bumping into someone they know, sometimes they have no transportation.
While student health is linked to educational success, as many as 60 per cent of youth do not contact a health care provider when worried about a health issue. That’s why Nanaimo’s John Barsby Community School opened a new Wellness Centre where young people in grades 8 to 12 can get primary care in an easy, comfortable and friendly way.
It’s all part of a new team-based approach to care, with family doctors, public health nurses, social workers, school staff and family support workers coming together to help young people manage and prevent physical and mental health issues. “Instead of adolescents having to navigate our complicated system, we’re building services that wrap around them,” says Dr. Sheila Findlay, chair of the Nanaimo Division of Family Practice, co-director of the Centre and one of eight doctors who provide family practice services there.
Students are welcomed to a warm environment with couches, music, and a basket of free apples – a different experience from a typical doctor’s office. They can make their own appointments, are assured of confidentiality and get to choose how their information is shared.
John Barsby student Sydney Deimert, 17, was one of two youth representatives who helped plan the Centre. She says the buzz among students has been overwhelmingly positive. “It is really convenient being right in the school, and it’s breaking down barriers,” she says. “It removes the stigmas of seeing a doctor, being judged.”
Among the subjects many young people would rather not discuss with their parents is their sexual health. Another is their mental health. A teen may wander in to discuss a sore throat and then introduce the topic of birth control, or visit the clinic for a knee injury and wind up talking to a doctor about a mental health problem. Some patients can be referred to partners outside the clinic – including addiction and Child Youth Mental Health services.
The Centre can help students who are overwhelmed with situations like poverty, and a severely dysfunctional family life. “I see some kids who are so incredibly vulnerable in this school population,” says Dr. Findlay. “It’s often heartbreaking. Our services can make their journey easier.”
She says that by helping kids at the beginning of their challenges, and connecting them into the right support and prevention services, they will be less likely to end up in the ER, and more likely to take life in stride in a different way.
By March 2016, 144 new patients had been seen in 523 appointments. “Everyone I’ve talked to is very happy the clinic is here,” says Ms Deimert. “It is more than just a medical clinic. It’s a place where strong, trusting relationships are built.”
This John Barsby Wellness Centre is a collaboration of the Nanaimo Division of Family Practice, Island Health, the Child Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative initiatives, the Nanaimo –Ladysmith School District, and community agencies. Read more on the Divisions website.