Québec Healthcare: The Bad, The Ugly, and the Good (A Very Personal Account)

Québec Healthcare: The Bad, The Ugly, and the Good (A Very Personal Account)

Part of a new series entitled Living in Québec


Yet again I find myself in a walk-in clinic waiting room. These are very trying environments. They exercise and demand every bit of patience and social conditioning you have.

The last time I was at this particular clinic, I had my then-15 month old baby in tow. She was on her 3rd  consecutive ear infection, or something like it, and it was now 8 pm – 1 hour past her bedtime. The process had begun early that morning, around 7:30 AM.

The way most walk-in clinics in Québec work is that you show up as early as possible – say an hour before opening. Generally there will already be about 5 people ahead of you (tough shit, sucker)! Then you wait an hour or two before the clinic decides to open (which, by the way, is their prerogative; don’t rely on their opening hours as they are adjusted on an as-needed basis).

Wait, what’s this? The receptionist has opened the doors – are we almost there?


Sign up. Be informed the clinic doesn’t actually start functioning until 10 AM. And wait – you are 7th on the list…so really, ma’am, the only option is to use your credit card, pay for a text-messaging service, and wait at home until your phone receives three series of alerts – first that there are 6 people left in front of you, then 4, and then 2.

Sounds OK right? Beats waiting in a nasty room full of sick people, right?

Yeah, I suppose. Except that the entire day you are on edge. Can’t plan accordingly. And when you do start to get the texts, you realize it’s still gonna be a while.

Until one arrives at 7 pm saying THERE ARE ONLY 2 PEOPLE LEFT IN FRONT OF YOU, GET YOUR ASS TO THE CLINIC. So you wrap up a very confused and cranky baby in her snowsuit, shove her in the carseat, try desperately to find parking, get in the clinic…and notice there are still a ton of people there. The text service you paid for had – clutch your pearls (or cufflinks, gentlemen) – LIED.

By the time we saw the doctor at 8:30 pm, our baby was wired, we were beyond furious and exhausted, and we just wanted it done with. The doctor was brutal. He forced the two of us to hold our child in a plethora of steeled, rigid, and unnatural positions so as to examine (almost) all her orifices. She screamed. We nearly cried with her. Only to have a prescription for antibiotics that could not be obtained until the following day, as no pharmacies were open that late at night.

Generally, when you visit a walk-in clinic in Québec, you return home feeling dejected, exhausted, and mistreated (or at least rushed through the system without any real concern for the complicated nature of your complaint). In essence, you feel cheated and abused.


Canadians can be a funny bunch. We will defend our publicly-funded, ‘free’ healthcare system to our dying breaths. I am part of that crowd. But what we consistently fail to do is stand up for ourselves – and this applies to all swathes of politics. Compared to our European counterparts, we are a very, very tame bunch.

I am not a political scientist, nor am I a sociologist, but there is a fundamental problem in the fact that we have zero control over the mis-spending of our tax money. These are services we pay very, very dearly for – yet they are pitifully inadequate. Healthcare here is often at third-world levels, and if you have ever driven on Québec roads, you know what state they are in. The Charbonneau commission opened up a huge opportunity for us to rise up and demand MORE for ourselves, but I don’t think we did.

Is there a solution? A viable, quick, and economical one? One that serves both us and the doctors and nurses who work so very hard, in such trying conditions, and for so very little money compared to other countries (hence their world-class training at our universities, and subsequent outpouring abroad)? I want to know. I want to hear.


It’s important to show the other side of the coin. There is one aspect of the health care system in which we excel, and I can say so from experience: midwifery.

I’m a bit of a research nerd (though this post might show otherwise, no time to hunt down stats and articles at the moment). When I found out I was pregnant, I went on the hunt. Read it all. Realized right away that if I could avoid it, I didn’t want to be a victim of a system that promotes pregnancy and birth as a medical condition; rather, I wanted to give my body and heart the opportunity to live it fully, as a natural (and yes, scary) process. Too many women in North America were being forced into unnecessary drug interventions, leading to high rates of C-sections and a host of complex problems for both mother and child. Sure, I wanted the hospital and its medical interventions should I need them. I am not bashing Western medicine, it can come in real handy (and did in my case, I ended up having an epidural after 13 hours of nonstop contractions – the sweetest relief I have ever felt). But I wanted more from it all than a few gynecological exams and ultrasounds – I also wanted guidance, compassion, and understanding. I had never done this before, after all.

There was a fantastic and free solution, thanks to our healthcare system. I picked up the phone, called one of several birthing centers on the Island of Montreal, and within a few weeks had my very own midwives. I was seen bi-weekly and then as often as I wanted. The care was ASTOUNDING. I was treated as a complex person with emotions – my check ups respected not only my body, but my ongoing mental and emotional state as well. By the time my daughter was born, I knew that I had had the privilege of the highest level of care possible in this world. My midwives were incredibly astute, adept, and handled all complications and questions with rigour, humour, and dare I say it, love. When there were issues beyond their legal or medical capacities, I was referred to specialists without hesitation. In the end, everything was safe, and simple.

I got to have my cake and eat it too.

We are lucky to have such an essential, well-developed resource as midwifery in place. If they could be looked to as a model for other areas of the healthcare system, we just might learn something. And maybe, just maybe, start to change.


The happy result of the attention and care of midwives, combined with our hospital system. My midwife took this photo, among others.


This post feels incredibly under-developed and I wish I could delve into each issue in more detail. I would love your input and, if the ball gets rolling in the comments, maybe we can hash out figures and ideas. Thanks for reading!


4 thoughts on “Québec Healthcare: The Bad, The Ugly, and the Good (A Very Personal Account)

  1. Thankfully, living in Ontario for most of my life, my family doctor is just a short half hour drive away over the border; which I’m very happy to make!
    I’ve not need to make any trips to walk in clinics, but I did have a stay in hospital and i must say, I think I lucked out.
    I’ll spare you the details, but once it got to the point where I was in serious danger (which was rapid so it’s not like this was a long drawn-out ordeal) things moved along very quickly; arrived by ambulance at 11:45pm on a Friday and on Sunday afternoon I was in surgery. I was home and resting by Wednesday afternoon.
    As I said though, I think a lot of it was luck.

    • Very glad to hear you came out of your ordeal in one piece. Ambulances are another deal altogether and you get priority to the ER (thank goodness).

      • You know, I thought so too, but not at the hospital I went to.
        The first time I called an ambulance they took me to triage right away, took some blood, and send me out into the overcrowded waiting room. (I was in severe pain but they didn’t seem to be too concerned as I sat there for 4 hours)
        I ended up going home as I had an appointment with the doc the next day.
        The second time I called I literally thought I was dying. I kept asking for pain killers and they in turn thought I was some sort of drug addict and kept yelling at me “What other medication have you taken? What have they given you before?” Who “they” where I don’t know LOL

  2. That is terrifying and yet so familiar. I have been brushed off too only to end up, months down the line, in fear for my life and under the knife (for something that could have been easily prevented, a very routine condition that was never properly treated or diagnosed). You make me think of the poor Aboriginal man recently who was mistaken for a drunk in the ER- he was having a stroke. I think we all have this love-hate relationship with our healthcare. It can be a godsend on the one hand, and literally life-threatening on the other. Thanks so much for sharing, BTW!!!!! And good health 🙂

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