Refugees come to Canada in the hopes of starting a new life; however, many newcomers have unmet health needs, and face many obstacles in receiving health care. The Gateway Program at The Faculty of Medicine of Memorial University is a student initiative designed to connect newly arrived refugees in St. John’s with family doctors and other healthcare professionals. The program was started in 2005 by two Memorial medical students with the guidance and leadership of Dr. Pauline Duke, who continues to spearhead the initiative.
Every Tuesday afternoon during the school year, newly arrived refugees meet with medical student volunteers who take their medical histories with the help of an interpreter and complete a screening exam which includes a TB Skin test, blood pressure check, height, weight, oral exam as well as hearing and vision screening. Gateway matches all refugee patients with a family doctor. The medical information obtained at the Gateway session is forwarded to the family doctor for the first appointment. Patients who are in need of immediate attention are referred to an appropriate specialist; the most common referrals are to dentistry or optometry. The program gets excellent feedback from the students. Many appreciate the opportunity to practice their clinical skills and interact with a vulnerable population early in their careers. Gateway also makes it easier for family physicians to see patients; taking the initial history from a refugee can be a very time-consuming process that requires interpreters and several hours of dedicated time. The histories and physical exam results that we pass on to family physicians allow them to start addressing the health needs more efficiently.
Since its inception, the Gateway Program has grown significantly and currently sees over 100 refugee patients a year. Most of the students from the first and second year medical school classes are volunteers with the program. In addition to the clinics, there are a number of student led initiatives that address refugee health needs. These initiatives include a car seat program, a dental health drive, and a vitamin D program for breastfeeding mothers. These additional initiatives are fundraised for by students through bake sales and donations. We were also very thankful to receive a CFMS Student Initiative Grant this year.
One of the highlights of the Gateway program is the annual Holiday Party, where students at the Association for New Canadians can come eat, sing carols, and celebrate the holiday season. For many of our newcomers, it is their first real winter and the first time they have seen snow! Medical students also fundraise to purchase gifts for the children. Other aspects of the Gateway Program include “Cooking Together”, a new initiative where volunteers meet with the men’s and women’s group at the Association for New Canadians and run a community kitchen. Medical students also volunteer at the Refugee Health Fair in the fall where they run a blood pressure station and provide information on cardiovascular health. There are many Gateway initiatives and the program is always expanding to meet the varying needs of refugees in Newfoundland and Labrador. Along with Dr. Duke and two medical student coordinators, Gateway is led by a project coordinator and an advisory committee of other faculty members.
The Gateway Program has been a great success here at Memorial University, and the program has been presented at several conferences. To find out more about the program, please visit our web page: