Summer 2016

Training Future Leaders in Refugee Health

In June 2016, the Canadian Collaboration for Immigrants and Refugee Health welcomed 32 first-year medical students from across Canada, Cairo and Beirut to the fourth National Summer Institute on Refugee Health in Ottawa. The intensive one-week program focused on helping student leaders gain knowledge and tools to develop and lead outreach programs that support refugee health.

Photo of the 2016 Summer Institute on Refugee Health participants Participants of the fourth National Summer Institute on Refugee Health, which took place in Ottawa in June.

"Thanks to this program, doctors are coming together to train national and international student health leaders,” said Dr. Kevin Pottie, an investigator at the Bruyère Research Institute, University of Ottawa and a family physician at the Bruyère Family Medicine in Ottawa. “We are preparing future doctors for refugee care and providing refugee families with timely service, while also building future capacity to support refugees in Canada and beyond.”

Students gain experience in cross cultural communication skills, learn about post-traumatic stress disorder, and develop medical expertise by working with refugees and participating in workshops led by physicians and national and international experts in refugee health. The program was held at the Catholic Centre for Immigrants in Ottawa, and involves 100 refugees from as many as 10 countries who are living at the Centre.

“Being at the shelter helps the students become more comfortable being in this non-traditional environment,” said Dr. Pottie, who explained that students work in pairs and are matched with a family for the week. “The students are great ambassadors, they interact with the families, conduct grocery store field trips through a special nutrition program and share meals.”

Recognizing the acute need for mental health care among refugees, the program this year added training by Dr. Anne Mantini and Dr. Morton Beiser on a community-based intervention for refugees with post-traumatic stress disorder called Narrative Exposure Therapy.

Over the years the Summer Institute has resulted in a number of student-led and operated programs that support newly arrived refugees with resettlement. One initiative matches students with families who work together to create a “health passport” containing the patients’ vital details and brief health history that can be shared with medical personnel should they need to seek emergency medical care. Other programs focus on providing nutrition education and mental health support.

The Institute is led by Dr. Pottie and Dr. Dale Gruner, also of the Bruyère Family Medicine Centre in Ottawa. The program featured workshops from Dr. David Ponka of the Bruyère Family Medicine Centre; Dr. Azaad Kass1m of the University of Ottawa's department of psychiatry; Heather Thomson, nurse practitioner at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre in Ottawa, and Dr. Anne Mantini of the Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

The Summer Institute’s students will continue to be involved with the outreach programs throughout their medical school career, remaining involved with some of the operational elements such as matching the next class with refugees, conducting research and fundraising and presenting their work internationally.

Since 2004 over 1600 program graduates have gone on to lead refugee health initiatives, nationally and internationally, in fields such as family medicine, pediatrics and obstetrics.

The OCFP is proud to have supported the National Summer Institute on Refugee Health.

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