The Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights at Boston Medical Center provides comprehensive medical and mental health care, coordinated with legal and social services, to over 500 individuals from 70 different countries annually. Most of our clients at the Center are seeking legal asylum here in the U.S. because it is not safe for them to return to their country. Many of them are survivors of torture, and almost all of them have lost loved ones, or have become separated from their families. Lately, our clients are primarily Ugandan, but I have met individuals from Tibet, Brazil, Nepal, Somalia, Cameroon, and Afghanistan at the Center as well.
Today, as I intern as a Patient Navigator, I will meet with a new client who has been referred here by their pastor. Before the new client sees a social worker for the first time, I will sit down with him and ask him some preliminary questions, such as what services he is interested in, and does he want to go to the Food Pantry to get some groceries after his visit today? I will then ask him a series of questions about his emotions and state of mind, including questions like, “Do you ever think about ending your life? Is your current housing stable? Are you worried about the family and friends you left behind in your country? Do you feel sad?” etc. This way, when the social worker meets with the client for the first time, she will have a foundation to begin working from right away. When talking with clients at the Center, it is important for me to remain sensitive and recognize my ignorance of their situation and their culture. I might need to use an interpreter (via speakerphone) in order to make the patient comfortable and adequately record their information.
After meeting with the patient, I will have them sit and wait in the waiting room for their appointment with the social worker, after which I will then meet with them again to register them for MassHealth insurance at the office of Patient Financial Services. Next, I will either escort them to their other appointments (if they have any) or I will help them find their way to the bus they need outside. This is why my position is called “Patient Navigator” – much of my time is spent walking from place to place with the patients and making sure that they get to where they need to go.
After sending the new patient on his way, I will return to my office to do “reminder calls”. I will remind patients of their upcoming appointments with the Center’s mental health doctors. These reminder calls can be challenging and/or comical, depending on whether or not the patient on the phone speaks English.
After I finish my reminder calls, I will generally help out around the office, straighten up the magazines in the waiting room, and file paperwork or do some data entry of patient information. However, I will always be “on call” to do Navigating, and I never know when a doctor will pop into my office and ask me to bring a patient to Dr. Gunther’s suite, or show someone how to get to the Silver Line.
As the afternoon begins to wind down, I prepare for tomorrow’s work: Tutoring. Two days each week, I tutor clients one-on-one as a part of the Center’s Job Readiness Workshop. The workshop prepares clients to successfully enter the workforce in America. We learn about work culture in the U.S., the documents that are required for employment, appropriate work attire, resume and cover letter composition, and interviewing skills. We also work together to begin the job search itself. The workshop is a valuable tool for refugee clients who want to begin working in the U.S. but don’t know where to start.
To prepare, I will review tomorrow’s lesson. We will be writing cover letters. I take out five folders from my drawer – one for each client – and stack them next to my computer. When my clients come in tomorrow, one by one, we will work together to write a cover letter for each of the job openings that they chose during last week’s lesson. We’ll discuss writing techniques and view sample cover letters online, and I might even show them some of the cover letters that I’ve written in the past, to demonstrate how each letter should be tweaked to fit the position you are applying for.
I love working at the Refugee Center because whether I am tutoring or navigating, my job allows for personal relationships to form, which, in turn, broaden my perspective on life. Working with refugees has opened my eyes to many global issues that I would have otherwise been ignorant about, and has made me so very thankful (and resentful) towards my own, comfortably routine life. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me, and I’m sure it will prove to shape my post-BC plans significantly.