Jul 20, 2023

Medical students work alongside family doctors to help patients take control of their health

About DFCM, Prospective Students, Education, MD Program
A group of medical students and teachers
Medical students and faculty involved in the Family Medicine Community Longitudinal Leadership Enrichment Opportunity

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, family doctors have been working harder than ever to get through a backlog of regularly scheduled check-ups and preventative care appointments to keep their patients healthy.

Now, medical students from the University of Toronto are helping family doctors provide proactive, preventative care to patients in underserved areas who are most overdue.

“Every year we have highly motivated medical students who want to learn more about family medicine and experience life in family practice. At the same time, we have many family doctors who are overwhelmed with unsustainable workloads,” says Dr. Ryan Banach, a family physician and Health Human Resources Lead in the Department of Family and Community Medicine’s Office of Health System Partnership. “By matching these medical students with a family doctor, both get substantial benefits.”

This summer a pilot initiative will see 11 medical students who are completing either their first or second year, work alongside 11 family doctors to improve diabetes care, increase immunization rates and promote cervical cancer screening, three key priority areas for Ontario Health. This placement, an extension of DFCM’s Family Medicine Immersion Week, developed in partnership with Ontario Health Toronto Region, gives medical students in-depth hands-on experience and an opportunity to see clinics from the inside.

Fatima Bah, first year medical student
Fatima Bah, first-year medical student in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine

“I spent part of my childhood in quite an underserved area of Toronto and have seen how difficult it can be to get the health care you need,” explains Fatima Bah, a first-year medical student in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine. “Like so many medical students, I’m keen to help and give back to underserved communities. So, this immersive program and placement seemed like a perfect opportunity, and really unique in terms of structure.”

Working in high-priority communities in the City of Toronto, medical students will use data from Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) to identify, call and meet with the patients that are most overdue for a visit with their family doctor.

While some patients might have simply forgotten they needed an appointment, many are still hesitant to come to the office at this point in the COVID-19 trajectory, explains Dr. Banach. A personal call can motivate them to come and take control of their health before problems arise.

Thanks to the support from OntarioMD (OMD), students and their paired family doctors will have direct access to OMD advisors, to help turn their EMR data into better patient outcomes.

“Introducing medical students to the value of using practice data to inform clinical care, with a focus on communities that face barriers to care, is an opportunity for students to put their pre-clinical curriculum into action,” explains Dr. Karen Weyman, Family Physician-in-Chief at St. Michael’s Hospital and Education Lead in DFCM’s Office of Health System Partnership.

“Students participating in this experience have a great opportunity early in their training to be an important part of an actual primary care team and make a difference in the health of real patients. We hope that seeing the relationships family physicians build with patients over time and the tangible difference we make in family medicine will inspire these medical students to consider a career in family medicine.”

This pilot, the Family Medicine Community Longitudinal Leadership Enrichment Opportunity (FM CLLEO), is part of DFCM’s Family Medicine Immersion (FMI) Week. FMI week is led by Dr. Lauren Payne a family physician in the Toronto Western Family Health Team and lecturer at DFCM and Azadeh Moaveni, a family physician at the University Health Network - Toronto Western Hospital and Director of Undergraduate Medical Education at DFCM. FM-CLLEO is led by Drs. Banach and Weyman with evaluation support from Drs. Noah Ivers, a family physician at Women's College Hospital and an associate professor at DFCM and Melissa Nutik an academic family physician and Undergraduate Education Scholarship Lead at DFCM.

These initiatives build on DFCM’s Office of Health Systems Partnership, which aims to support better primary care through quality improvement and health system integration.