Boston University awarded Macy grant to improve refugee health

Boston — Given the unprecedented refugee crisis and the current political and social climate today's immigrant's face, training the next generation of health professionals to be competent global healers and leaders is imperative. In an effort to prepare students at the earliest stages of their medical training, Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) has received a three-year, $392,000 grant from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation to help train future physicians to better serve refugee and immigrant populations.

In its breadth and depth this initiative, A Longitudinal Educational Program to Advance the Health and Health Care of Refugees, will be more comprehensive than any existing program offered to medical students in the country. Over the course of the three-year project period, faculty leaders will develop and implement a multidimensional educational program to provide diverse opportunities for students to learn about, practice and research refugee health.

Most medical education focused on this patient population currently addresses issues like immunizations and infectious diseases from countries of origin, yet does not teach about the physical, emotional and social manifestations of trauma. The majority of medical students and physicians have a limited understanding of their patients' cultural and trauma histories and how they impact illness and healing as well as limited skills to intervene in a culturally sensitive, patient-centered approach.

"Physicians who care for refugees are often unprepared to address the serious and complex needs of those who seek their assistance because of lack of experience, training and mentorship in their medical education curriculum. This initiative will begin to fill that void and also prepare students to deal with other patients who have been traumatized and increase their cultural competence," said George E. Thibault, MD, president of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation.

The program will be integrated across several health professional programs at BU including medicine, dental medicine, physician assistant, public health and social work. Faculty members from each of these programs will collaborate closely to develop, evaluate and disseminate course content. The new curriculum will include both didactic and interactive learning modules that will be required of all first- and second-year students. In addition, students will have the option to participate in research and service learning opportunities, a refugee health clerkship and an inter-professional refugee health selective will be optional for students during each of their four years.

"This project builds on longstanding efforts on the Boston University Medical Campus to train students and providers in the care of underserved individuals and communities, including immigrants and refugees," said Douglas Hughes, MD, BUSM's associate dean for Academic Affairs. After developing, implementing and evaluating the program at BUSM, project leaders plan to disseminate the content to other health professional schools. "While our immediate goal is to advance medical education, our ultimate goal is to improve the health, well-being and long-term adjustment of refugees," added Hughes.

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Sondra Crosby, MD, associate professor of medicine, health law, bioethics and human rights at BUSM and BU School of Public Health and Suzanne Sarfaty, MD, associate professor of medicine and assistant dean for Academic Affairs at BUSM are co-principal investigators on this project.

Crosby has focused her practice on care of refugees and asylum seekers for the last 17 years. She is director and co-founder of the Immigrant and Refugee Health Program at Boston Medical Center and has participated in the Massachusetts Refugee Health Assessment Program for more than a decade. As Director of the Office of Enrichment at BUSM, Sarfaty has more than a decade of experience in developing student educational programs that address urban and global health, research, service learning and advanced communication skills.

Both have established a record of leadership and caring for refugee and immigrant patients.

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Gina DiGravio
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