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Medical Students Launch Support Services for Refugee Communities

Published August 30, 2013

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and the International Health Interest Group (IHIG), two student organizations, have coordinated monthly educational fairs to help refugees learn about health care in the United States.

“Interacting with the refugee population, in part through this project, has significantly contributed to my medical education.”
Sarah Riley, second-year medical student
President of Physicians for Human Rights, co-vice president of Refugee Issues in the International Health Interest Group

Event Covered Mental Health, Medication, Nutrition

At the inaugural session in July, medical students provided visitors with information about mental health conditions that often afflict new immigrants, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

They offered advice on obtaining emergency health care services and dispensed information about pill bottles, pharmacy labels, nutrition and food hygiene.

Students spoke with visitors through interpreters and distributed information printed in the visitors' native languages of Nepali, Burmese, Karen and Arabic.

Students Learn About Needs of Diverse Populations

Sarah Riley, president of UB's PHR group, says her volunteer work with refugees has given her a new perspective on the challenges faced by underserved populations. “I have met some incredible and courageous people who have lived through horrors that I cannot imagine,” she says. 

“Interacting with the refugee population, in part through this project, has significantly contributed to my medical education,” she notes. “These experiences will affect my future practice by making me more equipped to meet the needs of a diverse patient population, particularly those who cannot speak English.”

Faculty Collaboration Strengthens Outreach Endeavors

Along with Reed LaSala, Riley also serves as co-vice president of Refugee Issues in IHIG. The students work with Kim Griswold, MD, MPH, associate professor of family medicine and psychiatry, who is the PHR group’s faculty sponsor, to organize the events.

Griswold, who provides primary care to refugee and immigrant populations, speaks with refugee visitors at the educational sessions and helps the students plan each event.

“Dr. Griswold has been and will continue to be integral to the planning and implementation of these health education events. She has extensive knowledge of refugee health issues,” says Riley.

“We will be reaching out to other faculty members who are involved with refugees or other human rights causes so we can work with them on planning lunch lectures and other events,” Riley explains.

The students plan to continue holding the fairs for at least 16 months. “This is something I hope that UB's student chapter of Physicians for Human Rights will continue long after I've passed off leadership at the end of next year,” says Riley.