Open Access Research article

The role of a student-run clinic in providing primary care for Calgary’s homeless populations: a qualitative study

David JT Campbell12*, Katherine Gibson3, Braden G O’Neill45 and Wilfreda E Thurston16

Author affiliations

1 Department of Community Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

2 Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

3 Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

4 Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, Medical Sciences Division, University of Oxford, Oxford, Oxfordshire, UK

5 Undergraduate Medical Education, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

6 Department of Ecosystem and Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:277  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-277

Published: 17 July 2013



Despite the increasing popularity of Student-Run Clinics (SRCs) in Canada, there is little existing literature exploring their role within the Canadian healthcare system. Generalizing American literature to Canadian SRCs is inappropriate, given significant differences in healthcare delivery between the two countries. Medical students at the University of Calgary started a SRC serving Calgary’s homeless population at the Calgary Drop-In and Rehabilitation Centre (CDIRC). This study explored stakeholders’ desired role for a SRC within Calgary’s primary healthcare system and potential barriers it may face.


Individual and group semi-structured interviews were undertaken with key stakeholders in the SRC project: clients (potential patients), CDIRC staff, staff from other stakeholder organizations, medical students, and faculty members. Convenience sampling was used in the recruitment of client participants. Interview transcripts were analyzed using a coding template which was derived from the literature.


Participants identified factors related to the clinic and to medical students that suggest there is an important role for a SRC in Calgary. The clinic was cited as improving access to primary healthcare for individuals experiencing homelessness. It was suggested that students may be ideally suited to provide empathetic healthcare to this population. Barriers to success were identified, including continuity of care and the exclusion of some subsets of the homeless population due to location.


SRCs possess several unique features that may make them a potentially important primary healthcare resource for the homeless. Participants identified numerous benefits of the SRC to providing primary care for homeless individuals, as well as several important limitations that need to be accounted for when designing and implementing such a program.

Primary care; Homeless persons; Medical student; Physician shortage areas