Pulse and Puppies

29 Apr 2019

“Dogs and cats make everyone happy”. UBC MSN student Kelsi Jessamine’s motto in life has been driving her passion to bridge the gap between marginalized communities and the healthcare system. Since December 2016, the Ottawa native has been coordinating, along with a number of community partners, a dozen of walk-in clinics in Vancouver and Kelowna to engage homeless people and provide them with basic nursing care and training while providing health care for their pets.

Pets have always been involved in Kelsi’s life. While she studied animal biology at Guelph University, Kelsi volunteered for the Ottawa charity Community Veterinary Outreach (CVO). The organization attempts to engage with and encourage marginalized populations to obtain health care while offering free veterinary care to cherished companion animals. With a rare and sustained dedication, and profound humbleness, Kelsi imported this innovative model to British Columbia. Building successful partnerships with CVO, Paws for Hope Animal Foundation, Directions Youth Services, Three Bridges Community Health Care, Royal Canin, and fellow nursing, pharmacy, and dental hygiene students, has been key to the success of the initiative.

These clinics draw on the “One Health” model, developed in the 1800s, which points to the myriad of interactions existing between humans, animals, and the environment. This model assumes that these three elements are interrelated and that each of them necessarily has an influence on the other. Hence, healing pets may help to heal pet owners, especially since similar health problems are frequently at stake for both humans and animals.

In Vancouver, clinics are held in the Downtown Eastside and are advertised through posters and outreach work. Clients may come on a walk-in basis with their loved ones. The February 23rd clinic saw thirty pets - eight cats, twenty dogs and two rats - receiving free veterinary services as well as food and supplies. “Dogs are off leash, cats are very socialized, it’s a highly stimulating environment!” recounts Kelsi, laughing. While veterinarians take care of the animals, clients have the opportunity to reach out to other health professionals, who provide pet owners with a range of health support, including flu shots, disease testing and naloxone training, as well as mental health support. Kelsi points to the relationship of trust that this environment creates, which is crucial to engage both youth and senior marginalized and stigmatized populations.

The walk-in clinic also offers an opportunity for professionals to hear more about the social history of the client. They frequently have long-standing traumas, but also a history of resilience, which pets often helped with. “Pets ground them in life, they give them a purpose, a responsibility”, Kelsi says. Kelsi strives to end commonly held misconceptions about homeless populations and their animals. “Why are these people having pets if they cannot take care of themselves?” is a question she repeatedly needs to answer. “Research supports the opposite,” the Clinical Associate claims. “There are so many health benefits that arise from this relationship, homeless people learn a lot from their pets,” she continues. Through informal discussions that arise in the presence of pets, health professionals may also get a better sense of the person’s connection to community services and information about their housing situation. In turn, through these insights, professionals may point them to the appropriate community services and develop opportunities to connect further with clients in the future.

For UBC Nursing volunteer students, this project offers an opportunity to get hands-on experience working with marginalized communities, to learn more about the barriers the latter may face in accessing health services, and to witness the influence of the social determinants of health. “Being able to help out at the One Health Clinic was one of the highlights of my clinical placement so far at UBC,” reflects BScN candidate Julia Liou. “It is amazing to see how important these pets are to their owners, and how much these pets have done to make a positive impact in their owner’s lives,” she adds.

This experience has also been highly valuable to Kelsi’s research projects as a student at the School. After her final nursing synthesis project, which she completed under the supervision of nursing instructors Maura McPhee and Ranjit Dhari, she will soon start working on her MSN final project. Kelsi hopes to evaluate this innovative model and see what gaps in the healthcare system it may help to fulfill. In the meantime, Kelsi’s partner and UBC’s Master of Public Health graduate Dr. Doris Leung is exploring student experiential learning in the process. “Maura McPhee and Ranjit Dhari have always expressed a lot of interest and gave me two thumbs up right away,” Kelsi recounts. “Kelsi and her colleagues have created, delivered and sustained an important service for our most needy community members and their pets. Vet pop-up clinics, the “One Health” primary care model, has become a reality in Kelowna and Vancouver because of Kelsi’s vision. Kelsi's passion for this Model is exemplary, inspiring,” UBC Nursing Faculty Dr. Maura McPhee states.

Kelsi is frequently invited to present the model to peers at national and international conferences. One of the most memorable experience remains the 2017 Community Engagement Healthcare Improvement Conference in San Antonio, Texas. Kesli and another UBC Nursing graduate, Jessica Ardley, were awarded a scholarship from The University of Texas to attend the conference and present the project. In addition to showcasing their project, the two RNs discovered a number of insightful community-based research projects aiming at improving the public health system. Since then, Kelsi and Dr. Leung have had the opportunity to present the project at a variety of platforms, among which the One Medicine One Science conference at the University of Minnesota and the Crossroads Health Research Conference at Dalhousie University, NS.

What should be the role of a nurse in the XXIst century? Kelsi’s answer lies in two words: “extremely dynamic” and “patient-centered”. When it comes to Kelsi’s role within this community, it will definitely involve more teaching and research to explore novel and stigma-free modes of healthcare delivery. “There is so much room for improvement in the healthcare system,” she concludes.

Discover more about Community Veterinary Outreach