Using a blend of the scientific method and a personal approach, Matthew sought to both understand and shed light on the barriers that exist in our complicated healthcare system.
Matt’s research project consisted of both qualitative and quantitative elements seeking to understand the perspectives of Hamilton’s precariously housed population, specifically as it relates to navigating the healthcare system. Through the Hamilton Shelter Health Network, a group of clinics operating in shelters and other locations in the city, a chart review was conducted and clinicians, social service workers and patients were interviewed about their experiences. It was found that generally, these patients faced multiple barriers to accessing healthcare including the lack of a valid health care card, difficulty attending scheduled appointments, as well as high rates of mental health and addiction issues. Interestingly, stigma within the medical community was also seen as a significant barrier when accessing care outside of the Shelter Health Network. In contrast, by utilizing a compassionate, flexible approach and establishing drop-in clinics in locations convenient to the population, it was found that many of these barriers were overcome at the Shelter Health Network clinics and both patients and providers alike shared positive experiences. However, it was shown that work still needs to be done on a systemic level to bring adequate health care services to this underserved population.
Working on this project from beginning to end, Matt was able to acquire a variety of hard skills important to the research process. These included conceiving an approachable topic, navigating the ethics approval process, designing and implementing the study, collecting and analyzing the data and presenting it in an appropriate way. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, Matt developed a variety of soft skills as a result of working directly with clinicians, social agency staff and vulnerable patient populations. Motivational interviewing, patient-centered practices and providing non-judgmental care in an environment that fosters acceptance and accessibility are skills and ideas that will no doubt stick with him throughout his education and medical career.