Concentration: Advocacy and Activism
Project Mentor: Scott Allen, MD
Graduation Year: MD 2010
Breaking the Silence- Cambodian Refugees and the Role of Health Advocacy as a Voice for Displaced Populations
I have devoted my Advocacy Concentration to developing a body of work aimed at educating medical students and healthcare providers about the health disparities affecting the Southeast Asian (SEA) population in Rhode Island. When I first arrived in Providence, I was unaware that the city had been a major resettlement area for refugee streams arriving from Southeast Asia (particularly Cambodia) that had occurred in the early 1980s. Little by little, I started to become aware of their presence. My experiences working at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on diabetes in Southeast Asian refugee populations had provided me with a wealth of contacts in the region. Armed with my experiences as a CDC research fellow, I spent the first year of my Advocacy Concentration getting to know the SEA community on its own terms. My desire for immersion would lead me to spend a good deal of time at local Buddhist temples (mostly Cambodian), learning as much as I could about the language and culture of SEAs living in Rhode Island. That summer, I would travel to Cambodia, eager to get an idea about health disparities facing SEAs in their native countries so that I could gain better insight as to how to advocate for this population. This decision to travel abroad came in handy. During my second year, the information and language skills I developed in Cambodia would enable me to develop presentations and written materials to help medical students and health professionals understand this marginalized population. Eventually, in the months leading up to my third year, I managed to get enough students and faculty members involved to be able to do more direct work with the community. With their help, I successfully coordinated several health screenings targeted at SEAs and led a focus group study on perceived healthcare barriers in the community. In my fourth year, I am working with other students to develop a multimedia educational module designed to illustrate the nuances of working with SEAs and other refugee populations with similar health issues. I continue to hope that this push to educate providers about the communities they serve will serve as an important piece of continuing advocacy efforts in the SEA community.
Most Southeast Asian (SEA) refugees came to Rhode Island in the 1980s. Although researchers studied their health care status, their access to care, and the…
An unexpected lesson in the cultural context of illness.