Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia medical community finds fulfilment working with refugees

Medical services for refugees have been stepped up in the Halifax area to provide health care for newcomers, and the work is paying off with a lot of smiles from both the medical professionals and refugees.

'It's amazing the amount of smiles and good spirits that are at the welcome centre,' says Dr. Tim Holland

Dr. Tim Holland says he has never been thanked so much by patients as he has in his recent work with Syrian refugees. (CBC)

Medical services for refugees have been stepped up in the Halifax area to provide health care for newcomers, and the work is paying off with a lot of smiles from both medical professionals and refugees.

"I've never seen such an appreciative group of patients," said Dr. Tim Holland, a physician with the Transitional Health Clinic for Refugees.

To accommodate the influx of Syrian refugees, a welcome centre has been set up at a Halifax hotel to process them and provide medical care. Despite the stress of the situation, the Syrian refugees seem happy, said Holland.

"It's amazing the amount of smiles and good spirits that are at the welcome centre. I've definitely never been thanked so much in one day of medicine in my life," he said.

Registered nurse Ashley Sharpe says refugee children are showing a lot of energy and excitement about being in Canada. (CBC)

The Syrian refugees are being checked for infectious diseases — such as tuberculosis and HIV — and their general health needs are assessed and treated.

The time spent with each patient ranges from 30 minutes to 90 minutes, much longer than doctors would normally take.

As a result, physicians are earning a fraction of what they normally do, given they are paid for the number of patients they see, not by the time spent with each.

'There's always support'

The Transitional Health Clinic for Refugees in the Mumford Centre provides medical treatment for refugees from other countries. The number of doctors at the centre increased from six to 14 recently, although they don't work full-time there as they also have regular practices. 

Ashley Sharpe, a registered nurse at the clinic, said refugees have overcome a lot to be here, but are cheerful.

"I'm happy because I get to see young children with lots of energy and their excitement for being here," she said.

Sharpe has been busy administering eye tests to refugees. For those who don't speak English, they can use either a face-to-face interpreter or one who isn't present in the room. They can even use an eye chart that uses shapes rather than letters.

"It makes it more efficient and comfortable for the clients," she said.

For Arabic-speaking refugees needing prescriptions filled, there are about 20 pharmacists in Halifax that can speak the language, including Reham Eldadah, who works at Shoppers Drug Mart on Mumford Road. 

Pharmacist Reham Eldadah is one of about 20 pharmacists in Halifax who can speak Arabic. (Sabrina Fabian/CBC)

"You can imagine if they can't speak English at all how overwhelming that would be," she said.

Eldadah came to Canada in 2006 from Gaza. Due to her understanding of the culture, she said she often knows what an Arabic refugee is thinking, answering questions even when one hasn't been posed.

Eldadah said patients usually open up to her and ask her questions about life in Canada, including a heartbreaking one: "It is going to get easier?"

For Eldadah, the answer is yes.

She said she tells refugees about what she loves about Canada and its people, but always encourages people to ask for help.

"Don't keep it to yourself because there's always support," she said.

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