Refugee Health Interest Group (RHI)

The RHI is a unique medical student-led interest group founded in 2004 at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine. The goal is to train medical students in cultural sensitivity and to respond to the needs of refugee families arriving in Ottawa. The program is run in collaboration with physicians and the Catholic Center for Immigrants (CCI). It is in part supported by the Aesculapian Society at the Faculty of Medicine.

  • The RHI Interest Group is one of many student-led interest groups at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Ottawa. Its main objective is to train medical students in cultural sensitivity while at the same time providing opportunities to practice their medical interviewing skills and enhancing their ability to work with interpreters in a clinical setting. As future physicians in a multicultural society, it is important for all medical students to have an understanding of the many challenges that newcomers face and also the differences in disease prevalence in different cultures. This allows students to grow as clinicians and improve as communicators to patients and their families.
  • The RHI Interest group involves medical student participation in training sessions on cultural competency, nutrition, and working with interpreters. Once trained, students sign up with an interpreter for medical intake interviews with newly arrived refugee families. Students also benefit from a series of talks regarding refugee health not only in Canada but also worldwide. Students obtain Medical Student Performance Record (MSPR) hours for participating in the interest group activities.

Description of the Community Service Learning (CSL) Program

Under the supervision of Drs. Kevin Pottie and Doug Gruner, the Refugee Health Outreach Program was expanded to include a Community Service Learning (CSL) program. The added component looked to address the needs of refugees as they transition into the community in Ottawa, while also enhancing medical students’ understanding of the social determinants of health.

  • The CSL program enables medical students to accompany a refugee family over the course of one year. The family is usually identified by our partners at the CCI as most likely to benefit from the students’ assistance. This allows students to develop a relationship with the refugee family and become a source of help whenever that family encounters barriers to healthcare and settlement. The program is facilitated by close collaboration with the CCI, the Ottawa Newcomer Clinic, the Faculty of Medicine and the CGCE. Students participating in the program complete 30 required hours of community service by assisting a refugee family in medical visits and other activities that would help increase health literacy and lessen barriers to health and wellbeing.
  • The goal of the program is to provide empowerment to the refugee family and to facilitate integration into the Ottawa community. This experience encourages ¬†reflection on the advocacy role that medical students can have as future physicians, not only at the individual level but also at the community level. Upon completion of the program, many students continue their relationship with the refugee family outside the context of CSL.