In 2017, there were 25.4 million refugees worldwide, of whom 33,400 were resettled in the United States. In fiscal year 2016, 20,455 individuals were granted permanent asylum status in the United Sates. Both in the United States and overseas, refugees/asylees face significant disparities in accessing needed medical, mental health, and social support.
The Refugee Health Partnership (RHP) was developed by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine students and colleagues at a local refugee resettlement agency in 2011. The program pairs teams of preclinical medical students with recently resettled refugees/asylees who have special health care needs. After receiving training, students conducted monthly home visits and accompanied patients to appointments to assist them in navigating the health care system over one year. Students participated in monthly reflection exercises to process experiences and attended monthly seminars facilitated by expert faculty and guests.
From 2012 to 2016, the RHP served 20 refugee families and engaged 60 students across four cohorts. Refugee participant retention was 20/22 (90.9%), and student retention was 57/60 (95.0%). In surveys completed at the end of their programs, students reported improvement in all measures, including understanding of different patient perspectives as well as comfort in communicating with patients across cultures and language barriers.
The authors plan to integrate more objective measures of students’ progress into the evaluations. They are scaling this model up both locally and beyond and plan to gather data from refugee/asylee participants to more accurately assess how they benefit from the program.