Family physicians needed to take on refugee patients

Published on January 14, 2016
Seven-year-old Daad Ahmed (left) and 10-year-old Nahla Tamer are two Syrian children who recently arrived in St. John's. There's a need for local family physicians to take on refugee families so they get continuous care.
Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

With the influx of Syrian refugees arriving in St. John’s there’s a growing need for family-practice doctors to take on some of the city’s new residents as patients.

“What we’re hoping is that even physicians whose clinics are full, that as a humanitarian gesture of goodwill they’ll consider taking a few patients,” says Dr. Christine Bassler.

Bassler and fellow doctor Pauline Duke started a refugee clinic last September where they were available to see government-assisted refugees. This weekend they are holding the first clinic for about 150 Syrians who have arrived. It will take place at the family practice unit in Memorial University’s faculty of medicine.

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But with more Syrians on the way, Bassler and Duke need other family practitioners to take on refugee patients following the clinics to provide ongoing care.

“What we need is family doctors to take them into their practices once we clean them up, basically,” Bassler says.

“We can’t incorporate 500 people into our practices.”

The two doctors are part of a team who will treat the refugees this weekend. Students and staff from the faculty of medicine will participate. The group will conduct the recommended screenings for infectious diseases and assess what other health problems the Syrians might have.

“Some people are healthy with minimal issues. A lot of people have dental issues,” Bassler says.

“There’s all kinds of chronic things, where they might have been a couple of years in a camp without any medical care.”

There’s also the pregnant and the very young who have not been receiving any care.

“I’m seeing people who are pregnant with diabetes who have had no prenatal care,” says Bassler.

“(There’s) certain viruses going on. A lot of kids across Canada coming in have fever and respiratory issues.”

Then there’s also the unpredictable ailments and illnesses — those that would be somewhat unfamiliar, such as certain parasites.

“The average family doctor wouldn’t know about those things. So that’s why we’re hoping that we do all that stuff, then we get them all referred.”

They won’t come close to seeing all the Syrians who have recently arrived and, with more on the way, there will be future clinics in the spring.

But what the doctors want to get across most is that they need family physicians to refer the refugees to after they assess and treat them at the clinics.

“We would be so appreciative, and the patients are so appreciative of the help. And it would be just a wonderful gesture, I think, recognizing what’s going on.”

Bassler hopes local family doctors will take on at least one family to ensure the hundreds who will be here eventually will each get the reliable care they need.

She and Duke are also willing to give support with any unusual chronic diseases or unusual infections. They’re also there to help with getting translators and have knowledge of the interim federal health program.