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As third-year medical students volunteering with Glia we had the opportunity to get involved with two stethoscope distributions last year. In Spring 2022 we were part of a team who distributed 500+ stethoscopes to first-year medical students across three schools in Ontario. Subsequently, in the summer, in collaboration with MEDLincs we organized an event and stethoscope distribution for the Indigenous youth of Neyaashiinigmiing reserve. We share here reflections on our experiences, as well as broader lessons on how free and open-access medicine can be a tool to work towards health equity and access to health for all.
In April of 2022, the Free and Open Source Medicine Club at Western, the 3D Printing in Medicine Club at the University of Toronto, and the Technology in Medicine Interest Group at the University of Ottawa put on an event for medical students at the three respective schools. This was weeks after all first-year medical students at Western University, and the universities of Ottawa and Toronto were gifted a Glia 3D-printed stethoscope. Attendees listened to Glia members and volunteers discuss the importance and potential of 3D printed medical devices and learned about the driving principles behind free and open-access medicine. The event included a live assembly demo, showing participants how to assemble their new stethoscopes, and concluded with a Q&A.
Reflecting on this initiative, it was clear that there was a lot of excitement and interest among medical students to learn about their new device, but even more so about 3D printing and open-access medicine more broadly. We talked about changing the culture around medical devices so that users are seen as collaborators rather than consumers. This seemed to resonate with many, as the respective student groups at the various schools had new members join, and other attendees signed up to volunteer directly with Glia following the event.
We were invited by the Chippewas of Nawash at Neyaashiinigmiing, located in Georgian Bay, Ontario. Neyaashiinigmiing, meaning “point of land surrounded on three sides by water”, has a population of roughly 700 people. In collaboration with Western medical school’s MEDLincs program, Glia held a workshop to build and distribute 3D-printed stethoscopes during a 3-day summer camp program, Camp Rock.
Children and youth aged 8-15 participated in the workshop, and learned to auscultate lung and heart sounds.
Camp Rock is a summer program during which youth from the community explore and learn about the traditional lands of their ancestors through land-based lessons from local elders, and enjoy the beautiful nature and clear waters. They also participate in medicine-themed workshops, hoping to foster interest in healthcare-related careers.
During the workshop, some of the kids impatiently shook their legs and waited for the signal that permitted them to jump back into the lake to cool off. I was worried at first; however, when I saw the kids roaming around the community weeks after camp ended, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they had kept the stethoscopes and had been using them to auscultate their family members at home. A couple of kids mentioned how fun the science component of the camp had been.
Springdawn, the community health nurse at the Chippewas of Nawash Health Centre, mentioned how difficult it had been to attract and retain local youth to healthcare positions. Hopefully, the Glia stethoscopes and Camp Rock helped light a spark in the next generation of scholars and healthcare workers of Neyaashiinigmiing.
The medical equipment and devices industry continues to see remarkable and exponential innovation. As medical learners at Western University, we see this in our training, whether it’s observing advanced robotic surgery, or seeing how point-of-care ultrasound has increasingly become an invaluable tool in the emergency department. In stark contrast, we have both been to various locales in Canada and abroad where we have seen how shortages in medical devices impede access to needed health care. Using 3D printing, the open-access devices that Glia creates provide low-cost alternatives while not compromising on quality. In fact, the 3D-printed stethoscopes we distributed last year have been studied and shown to be equivalent in quality to the gold standard Littmann Cardiology III. We hope to continue to support Glia’s equity-focused medical innovation and the vision of a paradigm shift from the profitization of medical devices to creating equipment that is accessible for all.