Dialogue Volume 13 Issue 3 2017 - Page 17

COUNCIL AWARD Champion of Refugee Health Receives Council Award Dr. Michael Stephenson D r. Michael Stephenson, a family physi- cian from Kitchener, was presented with the College’s Council Award in recogni- tion of his commitment to and passion for serving the needs of refugees in his community. Dr. Stephenson is the founder, director and chief physician of the Sanctuary Refugee Health Centre in Kitchener. Thanks to his dedicated work at the clinic, Dr. Stephenson has transformed the delivery of health care to the region’s most vulnerable patients – people who have arrived here seeking sanctuary from the turmoil and strife in their home countries. He has also helped further the community’s understanding of ‘refugee health’ as a field of expertise. “Refugees arrive on our shores having been subjected to some of the worst things imaginable,” says Dr. Ste- phenson. “They may suffer from a myriad of illnesses – many of which are unfamiliar to Canadian-trained physicians and some of which have gone untreated for a long time.” In addition to physical health issues, refugees often suffer from deep emotional and mental issues such as survivors’ guilt, loneliness, anxiety, depression and sleep difficulties. Add to that the stress of a new cultural environment and a new language, says Dr. Stephenson, and it can be a struggle to face up to the tasks of finding housing, employment, food security, education, and children’s services. In 2012, when Dr. Stephenson settled in Kitchener, the region was receiving more than 300 refugees a year. However, it was very difficult for them to find appropri- ate health care due, in part, to the complicated federal refugee program in place at the time. As a result, hospi- tals and clinics often turned away refugee patients and their health care was neglected. With the creation of the Sanctuary Refugee Health Centre, Dr. Stephenson sought to fill this unmet need by providing a culturally sensitive primary health care centre that focussed on refugees’ unique health and hu- man challenges. When he opened his clinic in early 2013, Dr. Ste- phenson w as the sole staff person, serving six patients one day a week in a room borrowed from a local church. Today, the clinic has a roster of more than 2100 patients and is open five days a week. And, in addition to Dr. Stephenson, the clinic boasts nine staff, including a full-time nurse and social worker, and a network of more than 20 volunteers, from administrators, psy- chiatrists and gynecologists to family physicians, nurse practitioners, medical students and researchers. ISSUE 3, 2017 DIALOGUE 17