A Kitchener doctor's work with local refugees has earned him a prestigious award from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. 

Dr. Mike Stephenson was honoured with a Council Award, given to just four physicians per year for outstanding qualities and contributions to the profession. 

He received the award last week at a ceremony in Toronto.

"It's still early in my career, so it was remarkable from that perspective," Stephenson said. "It's a testament to the whole team and broader community in Kitchener, as well."

Stephenson was nominated by his colleagues at the Sanctuary Refugee Health Centre in Kitchener. The organization provides primary health care to refugee newcomers to the region. Stephenson is both its director and chief physician.

Speaking on The Morning Edition on CBC K-W, Stephenson said there are added challenges to serving refugee communities, from the extra support needed to help them navigate the Ontario medical system to the language barriers many of his patients face when arriving in Canada.

"If you were to go to your health provider and they didn't speak English, it would be a difficult challenge," he said. "And I often have to explain to my patients what to do with a prescription I give them. It's not so obvious if they're not used to our system."

The centre has grown in the past four years, from serving just six patients one afternoon per week to 2,200 patients five days a week with a staff of nine and more than 20 volunteers on hand, as well. 

Stephenson said it's the people he works with — patients and colleagues alike — that keep him motivated to continue his work. 

"The people that you meet when you do this work are incredible human beings," he said. 

"The ability to move past the worst of what humans do to each other, the human spirit, the willingness to become part of this country, to do something great here, that's what my patients show me every day. It's extremely rewarding."