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‘Nurses working with refugees need ongoing culture training’

Australian professor warns of dangers of imposing Western healthcare norms

Nurses working with refugees should not impose Western healthcare norms onto their patients, says one of the authors of an Australian study.

Lesley Wilkes, a professor of nursing at University of Western Sydney, led a team of researchers who interviewed nurses working with refugee groups in New South Wales to learn about their roles and the impact on their own wellbeing.

Presenting the findings at the RCN International Nursing Research Conference in Nottingham, Professor Wilkes said refugees may not like doctors and find it difficult to go to hospitals.

She said: ‘One of the things about understanding the health issues is their [the refugees’] health-seeking behaviours are very different.

‘Their idea is if you go to hospital, you die.’

The researchers interviewed six refugee health nurses who cared for large patient groups from all over the world, including Iran, Pakistan, Nepal and Brazil.

One nurse told the researchers that patients have ‘often been deprived of medical care, experienced overcrowding, poor hygiene and ongoing danger’.

Another nurse said refugee patients have often been subjected to physical and psychological trauma.

The researchers concluded that nurses working with refugees need preliminary and ongoing education in relation to different cultures and their health-seeking behaviours.

Nurses also need ongoing support and debriefing with colleagues and qualified professionals.

The interviewees found their roles rewarding but could be frustrated by the difficulty of negotiating healthcare systems for their patients.

One participant said: ‘When they [the refugees] first arrive – and for maybe the first six months – the consequences of not being able to navigate the system leads to negative and poor consequences in managing their health problems.’

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