National Health Corps - Philadelphia: Spotlight on Service

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Already unsure of the streets of Philadelphia, their English language skills, and the cultural differences between the U.S. and their home country, it is often overwhelming to consider navigating the healthcare system on their own.

Scheduling a doctor’s appointment seems like a pretty simple task, right? You just pick up the phone, tell the doctor’s office that you want an appointment, briefly describe your symptoms, and make an appointment that works with your schedule. As long as you have your insurance card and ID card, your appointment is all smooth sailing. But what happens when you are new to the United States and not accustomed to the healthcare system here? What happens when your English language skills make it difficult to communicate your healthcare needs?

As an National Health Corps - Philadelphia member serving at the Nationalities Services Center (NSC), I serve refugees from countries around the world including Syria, Burma, The Democratic Republic of Congo, and Afghanistan. The healthcare system in these countries is often vastly different than in United States, and coming to this country comes as a bit of a culture shock. Already unsure of the streets of Philadelphia, their English language skills, and the cultural differences between the U.S. and their home country, it is often overwhelming to consider navigating the healthcare system on their own. Serving at the NSC, one of my primary roles is to provide health education to newly arrived refugees. Until I began conducting healthcare orientations, taking refugees to their first appointment with their primary care provider, and scheduling specialist appointments for them, I never really understood how much I take for granted growing up in the United States. It always seemed like common sense that in order to see a specialist, you would need to be referred by your primary care provider. Until the refugees I served started telling me about how healthcare was run in their country, I never fathomed that it could be different.

Through my service term, I have come to realize how powerful health education can be. Teaching people about Health Insurance, how it is used when seeing a doctor, and the differences between a primary care provider and a specialist  has made me realize that this knowledge is integral in becoming self-sufficient and healthy. I have also had the opportunity to teach clients which situations are appropriate to treat yourself with over the counter medications, make an appointment to see a doctor, or visit the emergency room.

I see refugee families that I began serving in September come in less frequently as the months pass because I have been able to provide them with comprehensive health education that has allowed them to take control of their healthcare. Now instead of coming to me when they need a sick appointment or have a referral to see a specialist, they understand how to call the doctor’s office and make these appointments themselves. While it is disappointing that I no longer see these families as often as before, it is also exciting to see the strides they have made since receiving education about the healthcare system in the United States.

 

This story was originally posted on the National Health Corps - Philadelphia blog: http://www.nationalhealthcorps.org/philadelphia/blog/health-education-paving-way-independence

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