Because America is a magnet for refugees from across the globe, physicians must be trained to better communicate and recognize the unique healthcare needs of this often forgotten population. With that focus, the UCF College of Medicine’s MedPACt (Medical Students Providing Across Continents) student group is holding its third annual Global Health Conference February 1 on refugee health.
The day-long event, at the medical school at Lake Nona’s Medical City, will feature training for more than 100 medical and nursing students from Florida, Oklahoma, Alabama and South Carolina. Participants will engage in medical simulations as well as hear from actual refugees about their healthcare challenges.
Global Health event student leaders say refugee health is not only a concern for doctors who do international work. With America – and especially Florida – prime destinations for refugees, most doctors routinely encounter these patients’ special needs throughout a practice. Caring well for refugee patients involves understanding their unique medical needs – including malnutrition and exposure to infectious diseases that are rare in the states – and being culturally competent to communicate care.
“People assume that the only time you’ll deal with refugees is if you’re in a place like Africa,” said second-year medical student Scott Furer, a Global Health leader. “But in Florida, we see refugees from the Caribbean, Central America, Cuba. Jacksonville has many refugees from the Middle East. These patients have unique health concerns, including PTSD and mental health issues related to trauma and natural emergencies. We want to bring those issues to life, to be sure refugees aren’t a forgotten population to medical students.”
The global health conference will include a mobile hospital, set up on the medical school’s Tavistock Green, where participants will triage refugee “patients” who have traveled a great distance to seek care for advanced diseases and critical injuries and ailments. Another exercise, in the Clinical Skills and Simulation Center, will expose students to refugees (actors) suffering from PTSD because of warfare, sexual violence and the emotional trauma from mass casualties. The students will learn how to get medical histories in a professional, complete and empathetic way – without triggering a PTSD episode with their questions.
Eight workshops will provide perspectives on the multifaceted issue of refugee health. John C. Bersia, special assistant to the president for Global Perspectives at UCF and a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, will discuss human trafficking – 21st century slavery. Hiram Ruiz, director of Florida Refugee Services, will discuss where Florida’s refugees are coming from and where they are going. Physicians will discuss setting up a fully operational refugee camp and hospital from the ground up during a humanitarian crisis and culturally sensitive communication with refugees. Healthcare providers at the Orange County Health Department’s Refugee Health, will share their more than 20 years of experience working with refugees. Catholic Charities of Central Florida will share their experience of how refugees navigate and face the U.S. healthcare system.
Keynote speaker for the event is Dr. Rick Hodes, an American doctor who has lived and worked in Ethiopia for more than 20 years. He has been in charge of caring for Ethiopians immigrating to Israel and is currently helping sick refugees suffering from heart disease, spine disease and cancer. He has also worked with refugees in Rwanda, Zaire, Tanzania, Somalia, and Albania.
“Our goal is to make this an eye-opening experience for medical and nursing students in Florida and beyond,” said Global Health leader Neesha Patel, a student in the class of 2016. “We want to put a human face the issue of refugee health.”