Overview and Eligibility

The BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) is one of North America’s largest addiction organizations and hosts a number of studies developed to help identify and understand the many factors that affect the health of urban populations, with a focus on addiction, infectious diseases, the urban environment and homelessness. In addition, the BCCSU acts as the BC Node of the Canadian Research Initiative on Substance Misuse (CRISM), a national network of researchers, service providers, policy makers, and people with lived experience.

The BCCSU FLEX projects are open to current medical students enrolled at the University of British Columbia as a part of their Flexible and Enhanced Learning (FLEX) curriculum. They have been designed for highly motivated students who are interested in potentially pursuing a career in addiction medicine and/or epidemiology research.

The FLEX Project is open to students at any site but must be completed onsite at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

Full-time, students are not able to split time with a FLEX project external to BCCSU unless approved by their BCCSU FLEX Supervisor

FLEX Project Opportunities

Students will gain research experience in the field of urban health, addiction and substance use. FLEX activities include:

The FLEX curriculum consists of 5 half-day sessions during Cycle 1. Sessions include a field tour of health care facilities and BCCSU research sites in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver, educational sessions from study participants and front-line study staff on conducting research with vulnerable populations, a hands-on introduction to using online resources (e.g. PubMed, Endnote) in research, and lectures from leading researchers at the BCCSU on research methods and evidence-based care for people who use substances.
The BCCSU hosts a variety of clinical addiction medicine educational activities, including the monthly “What’s New in Addiction Medicine” lecture series, monthly journal club, and various teaching sessions by Addiction Medicine clinicians, BCCSU Addiction Medicine fellows and Canada Addiction Medicine Research fellows working with the Addiction Medicine Consult Team at St. Paul’s Hospital. Students will attend these educational events during Cycle 2 of their rotation. They will also have the opportunity to shaddow clinicians in the outpatient and inpatient addiction medicine settings in order to gain exposure to clinical issues relevant to their research project.
Students will gain working knowledge of BCCSU research activities, including epidemiologic (e.g. cohort studies) and clinical research (e.g. randomized controlled trials) program study design and methods, peer-review systems and academic publication. All students will be given the opportunity to publish an original research article in a peer-reviewed journal (e.g. case report, commentary, systematic review, data-driven manuscript).

Students can select one of the following FLEX projects:

  • Clinical addiction medicine
  • Drug use epidemiology
  • Harm reduction
  • HIV/HCV infection
  • Medical and non-medical cannabis use
  • Youth addiction treatment, care, and recovery

Addiction and substance use are pressing and complex health issue that requires evidence-based approaches to treatment. It is an area of medicine that truly encompasses the entire spectrum of the biopsychosocial model of healthcare. For this FLEX project, students will be involved in one of the many innovative clinical addiction medicine research activities aimed at advancing addiction treatment and operated by the BC Center on Substance Use and the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse (CRISM). These activities include development of clinical case reports, commentaries, and systematic reviews on issues related to substance use and addiction medicine. Students may also participate in BCCSU clinical trials activities ongoing at the BCCSU. Learn more about the CIHR here.
The relationship between drug use patterns and practices, access to health and social services, interactions with the criminal justice system, and health status provide valuable insight into strategies to reduce harms and improve care for people with addiction. Students doing this FLEX project will use data from the Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study (VIDUS), the BCCSU's longest-running cohort study. VIDUS participants, who number about 1500, have been followed since 1996 and were originally recruited through street outreach efforts in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Data from this cohort have been the basis for hundreds of published scientific studies. Visit the VIDUS page for more information.
Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with substance use. The BCCSU has been involved in a number of research initiatives studying the impact of harm reduction interventions. The analysis of this information has contributed to a number of policy developments, including the expansion of needle exchange and distribution services, overdose education and naloxone distribution programs, and the evaluation of Insite, North America’s first supervised injection site. Students selecting this FLEX project will be involved in scientific evaluation of a harm reduction intervention through one of the BCCSU’s cohort studies.
HIV and Hepatitis C are inextricably linked to substance use and addiction in North America. There is an ongoing need to monitor and evaluate the health needs and treatment strategies for HIV- and/or HCV-positive people who inject drugs. Students engaged in this FLEX project will work with data from the ACCESS (AIDS Care Cohort to Evaluate Access to Survival Services) study, a cohort of HIV-positive people who use drugs.
Cannabis is the most widely used illicit psychoactive drug in Canada and there is increasing interest in the possible clinical applications of cannabinoids. Plans to legalize cannabis using a public health framework have highlighted the need for high-quality evidence on the health impacts of cannabinoids. Students engaged in this FLEX project will work with data from BCCSU cohorts to investigate the possible harms and benefits of cannabis in both medical and non-medical contexts.
Addiction treatment, care, and recovery services are a cornerstone of addressing drug-related harms among adolescents and young adults, including the effects of the current overdose crisis. Students selecting this FLEX project will become involved in qualitative, ethnographic, and community-based research that examines young people's complex pathways through addiction treatment, care, and recovery services in BC's Lower Mainland. Operated by the BC Centre on Substance Use, the goal of this emerging research program is to create new knowledge that will directly inform the implementation, adaptation, and scaling up of innovative youth addiction services, in the context of an ongoing public health emergency.

Project Deliverables

Students interested in a FLEX project will meet with a research supervisor at the BCCSU to discuss a potential research project of interest. To enhance the learning experience for the student, the student will be supported to independently develop a project of interest, carry out a research study and produce a deliverable (eg. a case report, systematic review, manuscript suitable for publication, presentation at a scientific meeting, or other project to be determined together with a research supervisor). The project(s) can be expected to take approx. 100-110 hours, depending on scope of the project selected.

The majority of the time (75%) will be dedicated to the research activity. The remainder of the time (25%) may also incorporate exposure to relevant urban health clinical ‘encounters’ that will allow for the medical student to gain first-hand experience in the field and support their research project. Supported research and clinical activities may include BCCSU office visits, fieldwork with research staff, site visits to harm reduction services (e.g. Insite and needle exchange programs), clinical trial office assessments with study clinicians, and participation in BCCSU research training events.


  • Dr. Paxton Bach (FLEX Coordinator for the BCCSU)
  • Dr. Thomas Kerr
  • Dr. Evan Wood
  • Dr. M-J Milloy
  • Dr. Seonaid Nolan
  • Dr. Ryan McNeil
  • Dr. Mint Ti
  • Dr. Rod Knight
  • Dr. Danya Fast
  • Dr. Jade Boyd


There are no prior requirements for this elective


There are no projected Student Expenses.

Timeline for Applications

Availability of student placements are limited (approx. 15). Students are encouraged to apply early.

Application Details

Please contact Paxton Bach at [email protected] for information about applying to the FLEX program.

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