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12 Stories. Narratives from New Canadians

One of the roles medical students are supposed to fulfill once they finish medical school in Canada is that of a health advocate. The Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS) understands that as future physicians, our role in health does not exist only within the medical system, but within society. Attempting to take on our role as advocates, we, the authors of 12 Stories. Narratives from New Canadians, have focused on a population within Canada that traditionally has been underserved. We do not profess to be experts in advocacy and have merely looked for a tool to help promote changes that may improve the health of Canadians. The best way we felt we could do this was to let those who have encountered much in their lifetime - immigrants and refugees - tell us their stories about their experiences prior to coming to Canada and then within the Canadian society and health care system in particular. After all, it is their voices which speak much louder than our own.

These stories were collected by a group of medical students, facilitated by the former CFMS National Officer of Human Rights and Peace (Kimberly Williams) and a fellow University of Calgary medical student (Lynn Peterson). Some of the student participants were Global Health Advocates who, through the CFMS' Global Health Program, help to promote advocacy and provide training within their medical school. The Global Health Advocates have been focusing on advocating for improved refugee and immigrant health for the past two years.

Collecting these stories was a way for medical students to better understand the current challenges that new Canadians face within the Canadian health care system and bring issues forward in a unique, interesting and engaging manner. We also collected international perspectives from medical students as far away as Jordan. Health issues around immigrants and refugees vary greatly based on location. That being said, international perspectives can help to provide insight and knowledge as to how we can move forward to improve the health of immigrants and refugees within Canada.

Many themes arose within the stories and perspectives collected. The main themes were: a lack of public understanding about immigrants and refugees and why they are integral to Canada's social and economic well-being; a lack of access to health care, such as language services; a disconnect between the presence of services and the awareness of their existence by the people that need them; a deficiency of culturally safe care; and an absence of research regarding the provision of appropriate health programs for this population.  Based on these themes, we came up with a list of recommendations that we believe may lead to improved health outcomes for all Canadians. The recommendations are as follows:

  1. To educate the community about the experiences and realities of immigrants and refugees, and why these populations are vital to Canada. This includes using tools such as this book, to educate: the public, medical and health professionals, and local politicians and policy makers.

  2. To facilitate access to the health care system by providing language services. Health care funding needs to be allotted to programs such as interpreter services and language lines.

  3. To improve visibility of existing programs so they are utilized by refugee and immigrant populations. This can be done through increased support, financially and structurally, for tools such as media, print, ethnic associations and community groups whose purposes are to link refugees and immigrants to health care and other services.

  4. To have cultural safety training for all health care professionals. This should be mandated into the curriculums of all medical schools and other allied health professionals' programs.

  5. To increase funding for research into innovative programs for refugee and immigrant resettlement. Research is also necessary for the evaluation and improvement of existing services. A knowledge translation strategy for dispersion of this vital information gained from research would allow for improved linkages between services and service users. Funding agencies such as the Canadian Institute for Health Research should allocate a portion of their budget to research in this area.

The collection of these stories and publication of this book is timely. There have been many changes to refugee health funding and programming in the past year. Canadian medical students are concerned that health for new Canadians may deteriorate, in a system that was already not perfect before these changes were made. The CFMS is against the changes that were made to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) on June 30, 2012. The appendix of this book outlines more clearly what those changes were. We are most concerned for asylum seekers - those who, under the new changes, may not have access to the care that they need while they wait to find out if their claim is accepted. To us, health is a basic human right.

We ask that you will support us in advocating for improved health outcomes for immigrants, refugees and especially asylum seekers. Doing so would include supporting consultation by the government, of the groups within Canada that work the most closely with these populations prior to drastic changes being made like the changes made to the IFHP on June 30, 2012. 

We hope you enjoy reading the stories as much as we did. We are forever grateful to those who so generously welcomed us into their lives and shared their inspirational stories with us. The following quotation comes from Story Two - A New Home:

During our conversation, he continually emphasized that he is: “ working in my community for my community.” His incredible story speaks of the hardships that refugees experience prior to arrival, their vulnerability upon resettlement and the difficulties of integration. His journey provides us with a window into the reality of refugees and hopefully inspires others to advocate on behalf of this underserved sector of society.”

One of the important limitations of the book is that the stories were collected from people who were willing to talk. These are only the stories of those who are already accessing services and who are sufficiently resettled. Those who cannot talk or who do not have access to services are not represented. For them, improvements are even more important.

It is through open minds and a willingness to share experiences that we believe innovative improvements will begin to be made. We know that the recommendations made are not complete and we welcome your insight and knowledge into the discussion around this topic! We look forward to hearing your stories and your comments - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . After all, a healthy Canada benefits us all.

- Lynn and Kimberly


Other contributers to the book:

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