March 13, 2020

Passionate medical students advocate for universal contraception

First-year Cumming School of Medicine students head to Ottawa for 2020 Day of Action

Celia Walker didn’t imagine that in the first year of medical school she’d stroll the grounds of Parliament Hill eagerly waiting to make a pitch to members of Parliament (MPs).

“The opportunity to represent my class and advocate for health policy change was a privilege,” says Celia, who’s also the global health advocate for her class at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM).

In February, Celia and three of her peers — Kavya Anchuri, Hilton Chan and Amelia Srajer — travelled to Ottawa for the Canadian Federation of Medical Students’ (CFMS) Annual Day of Action. Each year, medical students from across Canada meet with MPs to propose a positive change to our health-care system. This year’s topic was universal access to contraception.  

“Medicine is inherently political because health policy decisions impact the health of Canadians and, in turn, our day-to-day work as physicians,” says Celia. “Getting to see how medicine, government and public policy all mix together has increased my understanding of how our system works.”

Prior to meeting with MPs on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, students spent the weekend preparing three asks, including adequate universal coverage for contraception incorporated into PharmaCare, more public education programs and a federally supported task shifting model which would enable registered nurses and pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives. They had 15 minutes to explain to the MPs they met with how those three changes could increase health-care equity, improve health outcomes and lead to significant cost savings.

“Unintended pregnancies are a costly burden for Canada’s health and social service systems,” says Amelia Srajer, a first-year medical student and chair of the CSM’s student-run Government Affairs and Advocacy Committee (GAAC). “Research shows that cost, lack of awareness and ease of accessibility are the primary barriers to contraception. The changes we outlined would result in significant benefits for our health-care system as well as Canadian women, families and communities.”  

Amelia and her classmates are excited to bring what they learned back to Calgary and share it with their peers. They plan to host a lunch and learn session on contraception education and launch a letter writing campaign which will encourage students to write to local MPs. 

“As a student, it’s easy to feel like you don’t have the power or ability to make any real change, but advocacy is something we can all get involved in,” says Amelia. “We want to help other students who are passionate about advocating for an effective and sustainable health-care system, and we are here to support them. Every voice helps make a difference.”

Contact gaac@ucalgary.ca for more information on how to get involved with CSM student advocacy initiatives.

Visit cfms.org for more information about the Annual Day of Action.