Category: Health Magazine, Summer 2023

Title:Students help refugees navigate health system

Author: Bhriana Smith, Heather Wilpone-Wellborn
Date Published: June 20, 2023

The Health Navigator Program—a student-founded effort within the School of Medicine that aims to remove health access barriers for refugees—was born in 2021 after a community-based learning project revealed issues refugees encountered. Emily Phelps (C’19, G’20, M’24), Ruba Omeira (M’24), Thu Dao (NHS’17, M’24), and Mohamad Almasri (M’24) co-founded the program with the goal of pinpointing critical resources, simplifying the complex process of obtaining a health care provider, and offering advice to newly arrived refugees on the ways they can navigate the healthcare system.

The program started as an extension of the HOYA Clinic, and like the HOYA Clinic, it relies heavily on volunteer efforts. In the program’s first year, there were 100 medical, nursing, and master’s degree student-volunteers.

The program’s first cycle assisted 60 refugee families, most of whom were from Afghanistan. Now in its second cycle, the program offers a brief orientation for volunteers before assigning them in pairs with two students from a different program—for example, a medical student and a nursing student.

Currently, the program works with two local refugee agencies: Catholic Charities and the Ethiopian Community Development Council. Each student pair is matched with a family via one of the two agencies. The program recently received approval for interpretation services through MedStar’s language line, allowing volunteers to communicate more effectively with refugees.

The founders hope the program becomes a mainstay in the School of Medicine.

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