Advocate Profile: Memorial University of Newfoundland medical students

Guest blog post by Nguyet (Na) Nguyen and Sarah Strong, Students, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Faculty of Medicine


2019 Provincial Day of Action Working Group. Nguyet (Na) Nguyen pictured bottom row, fourth from left. Sarah Strong pictured first, on right.

The Provincial Day of Action is a yearly event where medical students identify a gap in the healthcare system and approach our provincial government with an “ask” to help fix that gap. This year, as students in the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland, we asked the provincial government to remove the age restrictions in place for financial coverage of insulin pumps for people living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) in Newfoundland and Labrador. Currently, the cost of insulin pumps is only covered up to the age of 25. Patients must then cover the costs themselves which can total over $6300 a year.

In November 2018, we began the process of deciding what topic would be the focus of the Provincial Day of Action. A public survey was created and shared with residents of Newfoundland and Labrador via social media, giving them the opportunity to suggest health inequities they believe existed in our province.With careful consideration of all suggestions expanding insulin pump coverage was felt to be an actionable and attainable topic for this year’s campaign.

Given the high rate of T1D in Newfoundland and Labrador, and that the current age limits on insulin pump coverage were put into place in 2010, our group felt that it was time for the program to be reassessed to determine if it was meeting the healthcare needs of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

In January 2019, a group of 20 students formed a Provincial Day of Action Working Group. We divided ourselves into different teams: research, community partnerships, communications and logistics planning.

Four members of the Research Team presenting at Training Day

Research team members looked at the current picture of type 1 diabetes in Newfoundland and Labrador, benefits of the insulin pump, and the financial aspects of our “ask”. This information was used during our training day for medical students, and was compiled into an information primer that students brought to meetings with Members of the House of Assembly and used to guide their conversations.

The communication team provided social media support, promoting the Provincial Day of Action and also worked to engage the public. They helped share a letter template with residents who were interested in supporting our advocacy effort by writing to their own Member of the House of Assembly.

Community partnerships team members connected with members of the T1Dcommunity in our province and across Canada. This included diabetes nurse educators, endocrinologists, provincial and national organizations and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians either living with type 1 diabetes or with a loved ones with T1D.

The logistics planning teams organized both the Training Day and the Provincial Day of Action. The Training Day was an organized session where medical students interested in meeting with Members of the House of Assembly and advocating for expanded insulin pump coverage received training and information from community connections, such as nurse educators and endocrinologists, about type 1 diabetes and insulin pumps.

Students meet with Minister of Health, Dr. John Haggie (pictured
centre, seventh from left), Minister of Children, Seniors and Social
 Hon. Lisa Dempster (pictured centre, sixth from right),
and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Children,
Hon. Derek
Bennett (​pictured centre, fifth from right)

This year’s meetings took place between March 16th  -26th, 2019, where approximately 50 first and second year medical students met with a total of 26 Members of the House of Assembly of different political parties to discuss insulin pump coverage in Newfoundland and Labrador with the hopes of gaining their support.

Our group was excited that Members of the House of Assembly were receptive to meeting with students and that many positive discussions were had around insulin pump coverage. In addition, the campaign had a lot of public support from residents, who shared their personal stories and wrote letters to their representatives.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Budget for 2019 was released on April 16th, 2019, and funding to lift the age cap for those currently enrolled in the insulin pump program was reported! This will ensure continued coverage for individuals who currently receive insulin pump coverage. Unfortunately, this expansion does not include individuals who have already aged out of the program, and whether the provincial insulin pump program can be expanded in the future remains to be seen, and understandably relies on the province returning to surplus.

While insulin pump coverage was not expanded to include all eligible type 1 diabetics, we think the elimination of the age cap for individuals currently enrolled in the program is a step in the right direction! We are currently preparing a public online petition to keep the conversation going about expanding insulin pump coverage. We look forward to continuing our advocacy efforts and plan to create an open letter to the Premier and the Medical Officer of Health to reinforce the importance of covering insulin pumps for all those living with T1D in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Follow these students’ lead and join the JDRF campaign to remove all age restrictions on provincial insulin pump programs. Take action today and send a letter to your provincial representative.


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