The Social Medicine Network BC (SMBC)

Interview with SMBC member Michael Stein, 3rd year UBC medical student (Class of 2015)


What is the Social Medicine Network?

The Social Medicine Network is an initiative that brings together an interdisciplinary group of healthcare professionals, trainees, and community-based organizations to work together to enhance the understanding of a broad range of social factors affecting health and wellbeing. It is founded on principles of social justice and human dignity. Our organization will work to unite citizens toward improving health outcomes and reducing health inequities in BC communities.


Who are the people that started The Social Medicine Network?

We are a team of faculty members, fellows, residents, medical students, and undergraduate students united by a shared passion for addressing the social determinants of health. Two years ago, a team was constructed that laid the foundation for the Social Medicine Network. The team was comprised of: Dr. Shafik Dharamsi, a faculty member and associate professor of family medicine at UBC; Dr. Denise Jaworsky, a 3rd year UBC internal medicine resident; Dr. Nitasha Puri, a fellow in addictions medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver; Dr. Robin Patyal, a 1st year family medicine resident; Newvick Lee, a 4th year UBC pharmacy student; and me (Michael Stein), a 3rd year UBC medical student.


How will the Social Medicine Network BC operate?

Our team has designed a website that we hope will unite healthcare workers and any interested individuals of all fields by calling them to work together around a common area of passion and providing them with the tools for advocacy, research, education, and community-based initiatives within a range of categories related to social medicine.

The website allows users to explore various categories in social medicine, such as Aboriginal Health, Mental Health, Addictions Health, LGBT Health, Prison Health, Newcomer Health, Maternal and Fetal Health, and many others. Individuals looking to learn more about these areas and wanting to become involved in a specific area may choose that topic on the site to explore opportunities within the field. Within each of these categories, there are three divisions: Organizations, Events and Opportunities, and Champions of the Field. Under these headings, visitors to the site can find contact information for relevant organizations, keep track of when and where events are happening, seek out volunteer, research, and elective opportunities, and get in touch with prominent individuals working in the field.

The website will also feature a discussion section within each category, where anyone can be involved in an interprofessional, open dialogue regarding current events. Participants can also share experiences and promote opportunities in the community. We hope this will serve as a vector for finding solutions to social health issues.

The beauty of the initiative is that it will unite people across British Columbia through a shared passion for a social medicine category of interest – irrespective of expertise, title, or geographic location. As an example, a SMBC member could post a controversial issue on the Aboriginal Health discussion board, which leads to an interdisciplinary discussion among an anthropology student, a psychiatry student, a nurse, a UBC Professor of Aboriginal studies, a medical student, and an Aboriginal Band leader. These individuals are consequently able to debate and share solutions from a multidimensional perspective, and together find solutions to improve health outcomes in our communities. This is how we hope to provide a medium that will stimulate deliberation, advocacy, and teamwork.

Such discussion encompasses the interprofessional approach of the Social Medicine Network. To our knowledge, this is a novel initiative that will stimulate a truly collaborative and freethinking dialogue spanning all healthcare and related disciplines.


How will your project involve students and health care professionals?

I would like to begin by clarifying that the Social Medicine Network is, above all, a family. We don’t view our group as an “executive team” that organizes initiatives. Our team has created a playing field for a group of individuals to meet and become involved in a common cause. All members may choose to contribute as little or as much as they would like and we strongly support creative and sustainable suggestions to expand the network. We are all in this together and are united by a genuine passion for social medicine.

The construction of the SMBC website required the help of a group of medical and pharmacy students at UBC to help investigate social medicine opportunities and populate the individual categories on the website. Students were encouraged to email us the categories in which they had previous experience or that they were specifically passionate about. We subsequently assigned 2-3 students to lead the development of each category. Students researched and posted the relevant details regarding opportunities, events, and key contacts in their field. Students were encouraged from the beginning to be creative in their work. They could spend most of their time researching their topic or could hold their own discussion groups, journal clubs, assist with the maintenance of the website and, above all, propose new ideas.

The maintenance of the website will continue to depend upon significant contribution from students in BC and around Canada when the initiative is launched nationally. All students are welcome to contribute to making the Social Medicine Network BC website the most up-to-date, centralized source of information and interprofessional discussion forum for social medicine issues. This can be in the form of volunteering to help oversee a specific section of the website, by contributing to online discussion forums, or by seeking out social medicine volunteer opportunities through the website to help make a difference in their community. Everyone is welcome.


Why does the Social Medicine Network BC think that social medicine is so important?

The Social Medicine Network was founded on the principle that social accountability is essential for anyone working in healthcare. As a medical student, I find that although I am constantly experiencing issues in social medicine, I am seldom presented with a clear-cut opportunity regarding ways in which I can make a difference.

With the inevitably busy schedule of people working in healthcare and related fields, there is a real need for a simple, easy-to-navigate system that allows people to browse areas about which they are passionate, connect with others with similar interests, and find out the convenient places and times where they can reach out.

The present lack of discussion is a real issue, impeding the action necessary to address inequalities in the social determinants of health. This subsequently exacerbates social disparities in our communities.

The Social Medicine Network facilitates interactions among healthcare workers of all disciplines, stimulating dialogue from different perspectives and encourages mutually agreeable solutions to social health issues.


What are future goals of your project?

Our main focus at the moment is promoting our website and establishing an extensive social medicine network. Future goals include transitioning these online discussions into regular, in-person meetings in the community based on regional chapters. For example, we already have students at McGill University and the University of Toronto wanting to establish provincial Social Medicine Network chapters. We also wish to develop a mobile app that uses GPS to find the closest volunteer opportunity for an individual based on their interests and geographic location. All of these projects are currently in development.


Contact Us:

The Social Medicine Network BC can be found at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter at (@SocialMedBC).



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