By: Tina Kim and Talia Bond, Dalhousie Medical School, Class of 2021
When it comes to migrant populations and healthcare, discussions of barriers, challenges to access and system flaws is a common narrative. Medical education focuses on teaching future doctors the inequities of healthcare and barriers to its access. While it is important to appreciate and understand the numerous unique challenges faced by newcomers to Canada, it is equally as important to share the successes in overcoming these challenges, in order to build on positive experiences and create new opportunities. During the past few months, we had the opportunity to do just this, through the Service Learning Program at Dalhousie University. This past year, we partnered with Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS), a community organization that works to settle newcomers to Nova Scotia, to not only learn about the challenges newcomers face, but also to learn about the supports and services that are currently in place.
One of our most valuable experiences with ISANS was the opportunity to work with the Youth Life Skills Workers. The Youth Life Skills Program provides newly arrived government-assisted refugee youth, aged 15 to 25, with guidance and support as they adjust to life in Canada. It is offered within the first three months of arrivals and matches each refugee youth with a Life Skills Worker who speaks their language. Many of the Youth Life Skills Workers at ISANS are previous refugee youth who have also participated in the program, and through it, have gained confidence and independence in a new country. In collaboration with the Youth Life Skills Workers, we facilitated a “Welcome to Canada Orientation” session for 15 refugee youth from El Salvador, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the workshop focused on Canadian geography, currency, multiculturalism, sports and hobbies, and healthcare delivery, we were pleasantly surprised to receive questions from the youth on Canada’s history, tax system, Indigenous peoples, and political structure.
Afterwards, we collected feedback on how the orientation was presented and comments on the youths’ experiences since coming to Canada. The evaluations from the youth were overwhelmingly positive and the orientation was well-received. Many of their positive experiences since coming to Canada shared similar themes around the Life Skills Program and settlement support, friendliness of Canadians, and opportunities for education.
“I have learnt that here there is good education system.”
“I have liked the people in Canada because they are friendly.”
“I am going to learn computing and I like it!”
“I have enjoy the life skill support from other people.”
The week following the orientation, we organized a field trip to Bowlarama, which was a blast! It was an opportunity for all of us to get to know each other and have fun. This was the first time many of the youth got to experience bowling and was the perfect way to wrap up our time together.
Our experience with the Youth Life Skills Workers has highlighted for us the truly amazing work done by ISANS in our community. The Youth Life Skills Program has evolved into a self-sustaining program, creating connections for past refugee youth to support new refugee youth. It is an example of the resilience and strength that has emerged within our community and is an example of the response of organizations like ISANS to address some of the barriers and challenges that newcomers face when settling to Canada. It is our hope that sharing our experience with ISANS will provide insight for healthcare professionals on the programs available for their patients and be a reminder to continue to work on creating welcoming and supportive spaces for newcomers to access healthcare.
Dalhousie’s Service Learning Program
Through its social accountability mandate, Dalhousie Medicine offers an optional Service Learning Program available to pre-clerkship Undergraduate Medical Education students in both Halifax and DMNB campuses. The Service Learning Program includes preparation, orientation, community-based service learning experiences, student assessment and program evaluation. Service Learning is a learning enrichment program integrated into the established undergraduate medical education curriculum and facilitated in partnership through the Global Health Office.
The goals of the Service Learning Program include:
- Enhance students’ learning by enabling them to practice skills and test classroom knowledge through related service experiences in the community
- Enable students to provide needed assistance to community organizations and to the people they serve
- Ensure students contribute to the Faculty of Medicine’s commitment to social accountability
- Assist faculty in their role as facilitators of service learning and in their engagement with the community
- Provide leadership training and scholarly activity to advance service learning in the Faculty of Medicine with our community organizations