Filling in the gapPublished on October 1, 2020

Photo by: Mark Holleron

Yvonne Ying has two big jobs. She is a paediatric plastic surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and an associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s Department of Surgery. But it is her volunteer work with the Ottawa Surgical Outreach Clinic that has a particular impact on her own life, and on the lives of hundreds of Ottawa’s most marginalized citizens.

The Clinic delivers free outpatient care in collaboration with the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre—which provides space and supplies at no charge. “We do minor procedures with local anesthesia—biopsies, wound care, injuries with lacerations,” describes Yvonne, who notes that the clinic—which she founded—is geared towards inner-city patients, those who are uninsured and those who can’t or won’t be seen through traditional routes at the hospital.

“Surgical access in low and middle-income countries is why I went in to medicine, but then I realized that my own community still has patients who cannot access care,” says Yvonne.

“We try to help those who otherwise fall through the cracks in our health care system,” she explains. “We treat patients who have no legal standing in the country—those who are not a refugee, but not yet a citizen—or homeless patients who do not have insurance because they do not have a health card.”

She adds that, “We also treat people who have had such tough situations in hospital that they don’t see it as a place to get better. It can be very stressful for them to know they need help but not be able to get it.”

The clinic takes outpatient referrals from family doctors, nurse practitioners, or health care professionals who know the patient cannot afford the hospital bill, although Yvonne is careful to emphasize that no hospital in Canada will turn a patient away in an emergency. “But even if a doctor or surgeon waives their fee, you will still get a hospital bill if you do not have insurance,” says Yvonne.

“We are really proud of our health care system and I am appreciative of my role as a surgeon where 99 per cent of the time I don’t have to worry about whether my patient can afford my care,” concludes Yvonne. “But as a surgeon, I believe that everyone should have access. These patients are just as important as the other patients I treat and they are the most vulnerable in our community.”

For more information, please call the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre at 613-569-3484 or email

Catherine Clark

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