By: Michelle George, MSc. Candidate Community Health and Epidemiology
At Dalhousie University, first- and second-year medical students have the option to take part in the Service Learning Program offered by the Global Health Office. This program allows medical students to gain valuable community engagement experience and have opportunities to practice their skills and test their knowledge in a community environment. It is while she was participating in this program that Rumana Rafiq, a 3rd-year medical student, was able to bring the Gateway Project to Nova Scotia. While in her first year of medical school, Rumana noticed that there were some knowledge gaps in the current curriculum that didn’t address working with newcomer populations. For example, working with an interpreter or understanding cross-cultural medicine. Adapting the Gateway Project to Nova Scotia from Memorial University, where it was initially established, was a way for Rumana to address these knowledge gaps. Now, Rumana and another medical student, Christopher O’Grady, continue to spearhead this program with support and guidance from Dr. Tim Holland, an assistant professor at Dalhousie in the Department of Family Medicine.
The Gateway Project at Dalhousie University is a program that connects medical students to the Newcomer Clinic in Halifax. This allows students to engage with the newcomer and refugee population in Halifax to improve student skills in cross-cultural medicine. Students who participate in this program have the opportunity to conduct a Post Arrival Health Assessment (PAHA) under the supervision of a physician and usually with the help of an interpreter. Participating in this program allows students to gain more familiarity with newcomer health patient needs. For Rumana and Christopher, participating in this program opened their eyes to the barriers that newcomers face in receiving healthcare and the inequities that these populations face. Rumana, Christopher, and Dr. Holland agree that students who engage with the newcomer population gain a better understanding of cross-cultural competency within a clinical context which helps them to continue to be advocates for these communities in medicine.
Like most programs, the Gateway Project was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. There was a major slow-down of immigration of newcomers and as such there was a limited number of opportunities for the large number of students interested in the program. Also due to the pandemic, some of the assessments took place online which, although still a successful and rewarding experience for students, doesn’t always translate to an in-person experience. Despite these struggles, the Gateway Project has received nothing but positive feedback from participating students which has been rewarding for Rumana, Christopher, and Dr. Holland as they coordinate this program.
Rumana, Christopher, and Dr. Holland hope that the program continues and that they can integrate the lessons learned from this program more permanently into the medical school curriculum. They also express that the success of the program was only possible by the physicians working at the Newcomer Clinic who were willing to go above and beyond to make themselves available to teach students and the admin staff who were crucial during the pandemic in helping adapt the program as necessary.