Calgary medical students have volunteered to help run a health clinic at Canada's largest homeless shelter. ((CBC))

More than 150 University of Calgary medical students have volunteered to work at a health clinic at Canada's largest homeless shelter.

The six-week pilot project at the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre gives the future physicians hands-on experience with real patients who often have trouble accessing medical care.

Linda McLean, the centre's program director, said the student volunteers help ease the demand for care in a population that is often overlooked. While the patients are sometimes difficult to work with, the would-be physicians are gaining valuable and unusual experience, she said.

About 165 mostly first-year students have volunteered to help on a part-time basis at the drop-in centre.

"I think a broader, longer-range hope is that we'll have a class of doctors coming out in this generation who want to work with marginalized populations because they've got that experience," said McLean.

Dr. Janette Hurley, a lecturer in the University of Calgary's faculty of medicine, supervises the health clinic at the drop-in centre for about 30 hours a week. She said it was the students who proposed the idea of providing hands-on help. They are responsible for everything from taking care of patients to taking out the garbage.

"They wanted to be part of that experience," said Hurley. "They can be of service to the community."

First-year student Braden O'Neill spent years volunteering in Edmonton's inner city, so working at a homeless shelter is not a new experience for him.

"When I started med school here, this project was just getting started," he said. "It was incredibly exciting — we could come into the inner city and be able to not only learn from the people here but also to help them and provide some good medical care as well."

One of his patients at the clinic, Terry Pettigrew, 57, has been living on the streets for five years. Pettigrew appreciated O'Neill's bedside manner and the fact that there's a clinic at the centre.

"We don't have to go to hospital and be looked down on ... we have our own care," he said.