Refugee Health Initiative — Updates from 1 year on

Submitted by Refugee Health Initiative Executive 2016-2017 (Adam Stich, Jasper Johar, and Yasmeen Mansoor)


Amidst the Syrian refugee crisis in May 2016, a cohort of medical students at UBC established the Refugee Health Initiative (RHI) to provide personalized support and empowerment to refugee families in the lower mainland of Vancouver. After a successful pilot phase of the RHI, 2nd and 1st year MD students at UBC have been working hard advocating for the needs of refugees in the Vancouver area. Along with partners at the Bridge Clinic, the Immigrant Services Society of BC, and Dr. Videsh Kapoor from the Faculty of Medicine, the RHI has continued to grow not only by the number of students, refugees and volunteer interpreters involved, but also by the variety of activities being undertaken.

RHI students following a presentation to refugees at MOSAIC on understanding the healthcare system.

Last year saw the completion of a pilot phase of the RHI Partnership Program where 7 students met with 6 refugee families on a weekly basis to empower them to overcome resettlement challenges and barriers to navigating the BC healthcare system. The RHI team has since grown to a size of 20 medical students serving a total of 16 refugee families.

While the Partnership Program forms the cornerstone of the RHI, we have begun branching out towards other areas of involvement in refugee resettlement—including creating workshops and educational materials on specific need areas for refugees; hosting educational workshops open to all medical students on refugee health; forming new collaborations with other health professionals including dental students and pediatrics residents; and conducting research.

Over the past 6 months, RHI students have conducted workshops and created educational materials for refugees on specific need areas including diabetes management and what to expect from the BC healthcare system. We are grateful to second year student Maryam Garabedian, who created an appealing animated video for her FLEX project that succinctly outlines steps to receiving healthcare in BC. Once a few final touches are completed, we will be posting this to our website ( We are also excited about a new partnership with MOSAIC, a refugee support organization which has agreed to work with us for providing a forum for hosting workshops with refugees on topics such as maternal health, stress management, and managing chronic conditions such as diabetes.

RHI students are currently undertaking two research projects. One of these seeks to understand strength and resiliency factors that contribute to resettlement success in BC through interviews with previously resettled refugees, while the other seeks to identify access barriers to support services for refugees with disability through surveying support services. While much research has previously sought to identify barriers to successful resettlement, none has been conducted on resiliency factors, and few have been focused on refugees with disability. We are eager to see the results of these novel projects and how they can shape resettlement support efforts. As both of these projects are ongoing, we will be providing progress updates on our website.

The RHI has recently entered a period of transitions. Following the completion of a number of training activities — such as educational sessions on the BC refugee resettlement pathway or workshops on working effectively with interpreters — our nine 1st year RHI members have been paired with their refugee partners, and are excitedly preparing for their initial visits in a partnership that will last a year. At the same time, 2nd year members are working towards the completion of their refugee partnerships while preparing to hand over the reins to the first-year members who will run the RHI over the next year.

For some, this period marks the beginning of a fulfilling new relationship, while for others the end of a year full of new experiences, learning and contribution to a worthy cause. We are excited to see how the RHI is shaped over the following year, and we are grateful for all of the wonderful experiences we’ve had working together as a team to form meaningful new relationships and create an initiative each of us has grown proud of.

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