By: Jackie McNeil
The McMaster Students Union Student Representative Assembly’s Standing Committee on University Affairs, in collaboration with the MSU Student Health Education Centre, conducted a survey on McMaster health services from Oct. 23, 2017 to Nov. 10.
A January 2018 report written on the health services review acknowledges that physical and mental health are important aspects of student life, and that the health services survey was a key method for student voices to be heard on these topics.
The survey sample was roughly 100 students. 83 per cent of respondents identified as female and only four per cent of the sample was first year students. The lack of participation from first years is explained as likely resulting from the survey being early on in their first semester, not giving them time to have visited the Student Wellness Centre.
The report does acknowledge a need for strategies to encourage participation in the future from those who identify as male given the majority were female respondents.
“The Student Wellness Centre does blood testing, but they don’t do it for non-urgent reasons… they can’t really offer all the services on campus because they have limited capacity.”
MSU associate vice president
Starting with the availability of appointments, the survey itself looked at a variety of topics surrounding student health and the SWC. Although appointments were not difficult to get with wait times generally below one week, 36 per cent of respondents said they had tried to access the SWC at a time when it was closed.
The SWC is open from 8:45 a.m. until 7:45 p.m. most weekdays, except for Fridays when it closes at 4:30 p.m. It is closed all day on weekends, but the survey results suggest a need for operating hours on the weekend when students do not have classes.
Another important issue addressed by the survey is blood testing on campus, which was not offered at the time. If a student had needed blood testing done, then they would be referred to an off-campus location. According to the survey, 48 per cent of students referred did not complete the recommended blood test, often due to difficulties finding the location or accessing it without a car.
David Lee, MSU associate vice president (University Affairs), explained that this situation has begun to be rectified with the SWC now offering blood testing on campus.
“The Student Wellness Centre does blood testing, but they don’t do it for non-urgent reasons… they can’t really offer all the services on campus because they have limited capacity,” Lee stated.
This limited capacity means that referrals are still very necessary in order for students to access the healthcare they need. There is, however, the hope for a more detailed explanation of the referral system and locations in the future, especially for international students who may not be familiar with the area.
A large area of concern in the survey and report was the counselling offered by the SWC, with 54 per cent of respondents that had participated in counselling claiming dissatisfaction. The most common complaints pertained to wait times of sometimes months between appointments, especially during the stressful exam season, and a lack of sensitivity from staff.
These have been addressed with the hiring of five new counsellors specializing in addiction and trauma, and the potential for a new model to be implemented by SWC staff when approaching mental health and mental illness.
“It’s easy to think of the Student Wellness Centre as the main problem, but it’s really a bigger issue of the health care system in general,” Lee said.
Students who have visited the SWC are encouraged to fill out the brief survey on their website, so student ideas for improvement can be heard. Students can also look forward to the SWC’s future relocation to the coming Peter George Centre for Living and Learning.