Nov. 14, 2023

UCalgary student-run clinic expands to YW Calgary

New service is gentle reintroduction to health-care system for many women
From left: Salwa Naalu, Andrew Wong, Curtis Ostertag, Ann Tran, Sharon Parappally-Joseph. Riley Brandt photos, University of Calgary

The appointment starts with a conversation and active listening.

“Many of these women have gone through a lot. Some feel unheard. It can be difficult for them to talk about their health-care needs. We want to create a safe space,” says Sharon Parappally-Joseph, a second-year medical student at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM).

“We encourage them to share their story with us. As students we are still learning. We want to cover everything. When they need time to cry or feel distressed, we hold the space for them. We relax together. Usually after that we can move forward.”

Students are in a team of two when they first meet with a patient. They spend up to half an hour gathering the most accurate story possible to advocate for the patient when the physician joins them to learn about the patient’s needs, conduct the physical exam, and determine treatment.

Medical students manage all daily operations of the clinic.

Medical students manage all daily operations of the clinic.

“Part of our job is to act as the gateway to help people get back into the health-care system, provide that helping hand,” says Dr. Andrew Wong, MD ‘11, clinical lecturer at the CSM and medical director for the Calgary Student Run Clinic (SRC). “Seeing a doctor is a first step in primary care. Some people we see have not seen a doctor for many years.”

The SRC expanded to YW Calgary in April 2023.

“The partnership with SRC has been valuable for our clients in building trust with health-care providers. The one-on-one connection between clients and the medical students has helped reduce barriers this population faces when accessing medical supports,” says Salwa Naalu, manager, housing and outreach, YW Calgary.

“Some of our clients haven’t met with a family physician in years for various reasons, including impacts of experience, social stigmas, and limited resources. Having a physician on site to provide primary care services, preventive medicine and health education is a critical step to empowering our clients to successfully navigate the health-care system.”


The SRC is a non-profit organization that was created by the MD class of 2011. Students were looking for opportunities to give back to the community by providing accessible and quality medical care to Calgary’s inner-city population.

“As students progress, they see through the client’s eyes. They gain empathy and understanding for people who are marginalized,” says Wong. “They also gain clinical skills along the way. A lot of mental-health training as well as practical experience such as using an otoscope and conducting short physical exams.”

Wong helped when the first clinic opened in the Calgary Drop-In Centre. The SRC main clinic later moved to the Mustard Seed Wellness Centre where it’s operated for three years.

The SRC is overseen by a board made up of second- and third-year medical students, faculty, and community partners. Students make up the executive team and manage the clinic. They operate the reception area, book appointments, manage fundraisers, provide education workshops to clients, and plan the growth and development of the clinic. Developing business skills is only part of the lesson.  

Student clinicians say having a conversation while taking a patient history is key.

Student clinicians say having a conversation while taking a patient history is key.

“We’re learning history taking, advocacy and get an opportunity to practice clinical skills, exam skills. We learn to manage a patient and recommend a treatment plan based on their coverage, that’s not something I realized I had to consider so deeply,” says Parappally-Joseph.

“I’ve learned how to look up things that were covered [by insurance] and what can we do if they don’t have any coverage. You don’t think about it on a daily basis, in most hospitals. Treatments are all covered, but in the community — everything is different.”

Parappally-Joseph says the practical education she’s gained at the YW clinic, while challenging, is also very rewarding.  

“During one shift a patient returned to the clinic later in the day to say ‘This is the first time I felt heard’. It made my day. Now she’s happy to come back to the clinic. Seeing her come back made my week. Sometimes you don’t see the impact you’re having, and we were just listening.”

The SRC is currently recruiting physicians to oversee students. If you are interested please email

All physical exams are overseen by a physician.

All physical exams are overseen by a physician.

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