Katie Stahl ’20 Provides Health Care for Refugees at Partnership Health Center in Missoula, MT

Hi everyone! My name is Katie Stahl, a Junior biology major, and I will be spending my summer as an intern at Partnership Health Center in Missoula Montana. More specifically, I will be interning within Partnership’s Refugee Program. The Refugee Program provides new patient and green card exams to incoming refugees from The Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Syria and Iraq. Along with the Refugee Program, Partnership Health Center provides healthcare to all community members is Missoula, no one is turned away due to the inability to pay. Partnership is a super important part of the Missoula Community, and I’m excited I will be getting to spend the summer learning about implementing healthcare programs and providing optimal care to patients from healthcare providers, nurses, and community health specialists within the Refugee Program.

Getting immunizations, checkups, blood work, dental care and trauma screenings are just a few of the requirements that must be completed very shortly once a refugee arrives to America. All of this can be overwhelming, complicated and confusing for this population. Almost all of our refugee patients speak very little English, making scheduling appointments, giving care and ensuring transportation challenging. I’ve been able to assist with the details of organizing and helping patients get through their appointments. A typical day begins by looking at a spreadsheet that contains all of the refugee clients, their upcoming appointment dates and times, where they are from, age etc. After taking a look at the spreadsheet, I can formulate a rough outline of what the day will bring. Due to the language barrier and lack of knowledge regarding how healthcare is provided in the United States, refugee patients need assistance every step of the way during their appointment. The community health specialist, Chloe who is pictured, and I will meet patients in the lobby, ensure the interpreter line is being used correctly, assist them from the lab to the pharmacy or their next appointment in the dentist wing for example.

That was a quick summary of what a good portion of the day would be spent doing. Along with being on the clinic floor, I’ve gotten to attend a Mental Health First Aid USA training course with Partnership employees who are involved with the refugee program as well as other people like Missoula County Public School administrators who are looking to increase their ability to identify mental health problems in the classroom. Refugees can be very susceptible to mental health problems due to previous trauma or simply the transition from their home country to the U.S. Being able to reorganize if a refugee is experiencing these problems is crucial because due to their culture, the language barrier and the stigma surrounding mental health, it is unlikely for a refugee patient to communicate mental health issues to their provider.

My time at Partnership so far has also included a plethora of collaborative meeting between healthcare providers, health department employees, WIC (Women, Infants and Children) to discuss ways to improve the flow of refugee treatment and transition into the community. One of the topics up for discussion was the lack of nutritional education. The diet most commonly consumed in America is quite different from the typical diet these refugees are used to. The change in food consumption can actually cause a variety of health problems, especially for children. Additionally, most refugees are lacking in certain essential vitamins. Over the course of the summer, while I’m not on the clinic floor, I will be creating a small booklet containing nutritional information that is easily understandable for the refugee population coming to Missoula. This packet will then be shown and read to patients during their new patient exams in hopes of educating them on what foods should be eaten, how much, and what foods they can incorporate into their diets to get proper vitamin intake.

So far, my experience at Partnership has been a positive one. I’ve gotten to experience what being on the clinic floor, as well as be a part of what goes on behind the scenes with planning, coordination and collaboration. On Top of all that, although they are not pictured due to respecting their privacy, I’ve gotten to meet individuals from across the world. Their outlook on life and attitude, despite what they’ve experienced is really inspiring. I’m grateful for the Whitman Internship Grant because without it, this experience would not have been possible.

Experiences like Katie’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff

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