Internationalisation-at-Home: Taylor's School of Medicine Students Work with International Refugees in Malaysia

Malaysia is a country with thousands of refugees who for various reasons have little or no access to public health services. A recent project in the School of Medicine brought students face-to-face with refugees with mental health issues.

It is typical to think that students must travel overseas to gain an international perspective and have an experience. But this notion has been challenged, and the Internationalisation-at-Home (IaH) movement was initiated as a community project in Malmo (Sweden) back in 1998. Given that not all students can afford the time of money to head overseas, the focus of this IaH initiative was on how to better engage with foreign migrants, refugees and international students living amongst us. Students from the Taylor's School of Medicine recently engaged with refugees during their posting in Psychiatry. The interactions with the refugees took place during their visits to the Damai Service Hospital (HQ), Kuala Lumpur and to the Health Equity Initiatives (HEI), which is a non-governmental organisation that provides free mental health services to refugees that have little or no access to such services. This is done under the supervision of Associate Professor Dr. Xavier V. Pereira who is also Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist at Damai Service Hospital and director of Health Equity Initiatives.

Charlotte Ee with Dr. Xavier V. Pereira

Reflecting on her experience, one the participating students Charlotte Ee Sze Lyn said that, "We saw many refugee patients from different cultures, ethnicities and religions. A Sudanese patient in particular stood out in my memory. She came in to the room dressed in bright, colourful clothing with a radiant smile over her face and her adorable young son clinging to her hip. This didn't look like a woman suffering from an illness, psychiatric or otherwise. I was shocked to find out that this woman had suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She had witnessed the death of many family members and had fled her country". She added "I learnt from this patient that a person's appearance does not always reflect his/her mind's inner workings".

Charlotte went on to note that, "The patients I've seen in the past few weeks were very different compared to those I've seen in the government hospital for the past year….We saw an array of symptoms over the 4-weeks and learnt more than we could have from merely reading our textbooks". She concluded by pointing out that "This posting has taught me to be a kinder and better human being as well as a more compassionate doctor-to-be. I've learnt the importance of taking the time to listen to my patients. It is better not to jump to conclusions and stereotype according to race and nationality but to hear them out from start to finish". To find out more about the Taylor's School of Medicine click here.