There are growing numbers of refugees throughout the world. Refugee health is a relatively unstudied and rarely taught component of medical education. In response to this need, a Refugee Health Elective was begun. Medical student perceptions toward cultural aspects of medicine and refugee health before and after participation in the elective were measured.
Preliminary questionnaires were given to all preclinical students at the academic year commencement with follow-up questionnaires at the refugee elective's conclusion. Both questionnaires examined students' comfort in interacting with patients and familiarity with refugee medical issues, alternative medical practices, and social hindrances to medical care. The preliminary answers served as a control and follow-up questionnaire data were separated into participant/non-participant categories. All preclinical medical students at two Midwestern medical schools were provided the opportunity to participate in the Refugee Health Elective and surveys. The 3 data groups were compared using unadjusted and adjusted analysis techniques with the Kruskall-Wallis, Bonferroni and ANCOVA adjustment. P-values < 0.05 were considered significant.
408 and 403 students filled out the preliminary and follow-up questionnaires, respectfully, 42 of whom participated in the elective. Students considering themselves minorities or multilingual were more likely to participate. Elective participants were more likely to be able to recognize the medical/mental health issues common to refugees, to feel comfortable interacting with foreign-born patients, and to identify cultural differences in understanding medical/mental health conditions, after adjusting for minority or multilingual status.
As medical schools integrate a more multicultural curriculum, a Refugee Health Elective for preclinical students can enhance awareness and promote change in attitude toward medical/mental health issues common to refugees. This elective format offers tangible and effective avenues for these topics to be addressed.