Advice and development

Refugees showed me the importance of person-centred care

A trip to Berlin to learn about the health and care of refugees helped first-year nursing student Katie Dutton understand the importance of listening to others’ experiences when delivering compassionate, patient-centred care.

A trip to Berlin to learn about the health and care of refugees helped first-year nursing student Katie Dutton understand the importance of listening to others’ experiences when delivering compassionate, patient-centred care 

berlin
A young Syrian refugee from Damascus receives a vaccination in Berlin.
Picture: Getty Images

I was one of more than 40 nursing students who travelled to Berlin in June for a five-day trip focusing on the health and care of refugees and asylum seekers, an area I previously knew little about.

In one of the biggest European trips ever carried out by a UK university, we were among more than 800 students and staff from De Montfort University in Leicester taking part in a programme called DMUglobal, to enable students to have international experience as part of their studies. 

In the south of Berlin – where the largest number of refugees are given or are seeking asylum – we visited a shelter where we met Mahmoud, a refugee from Syria who had fled with his wife. 

Mahmoud had been a professor in Syria, and had been imprisoned and tortured for not following the views of the government and for refusing to work with them. 

Life stories

He was very underweight when he arrived in Berlin, but with paid employment, support and access to traditional food from home, he was able to get back to a healthy weight. 

He told us that the health system was one of the main reasons he chose to go to Germany. All refugees are given health insurance and are treated the same as German citizens when receiving care. 

We also listened to the stories of other refugees, who were thankful to Germany for giving them freedom, with one saying: ‘I may not have a passport, but I’ve never felt so free.’ 

Meeting the refugees and listening to their stories, I realised how little we truly know about others and their experiences. 

Avoid labelling

Now, when on clinical placements, I always try to find time to sit with patients and ask them how they are feeling, what their life is like outside of the care setting, and how it was before their illness. 

Stress and psychological trauma can have a significant effect on health and well-being. But talking about it, and knowing that people care and are there to help, can make all the difference. 

My capacity to treat people equally and with the same level of compassion has also increased. I do not accept things at face value and ensure that care is always patient-centred. 

Most of all, I have learnt that nothing good ever comes from labelling people – underneath our beliefs, religions or disabilities, we are all the same. 

This was an invaluable trip that really influenced my nursing degree. If you are a nursing student and the opportunity arises to have an international experience such as this, grab it with both hands.


Katie Dutton is a first-year nursing student at De Montfort University in Leicester 

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