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April 29, 2004
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A new perception of health


By Sharon Gray
Cynthia Cadigan (L) and Deirdre Cooper at the annual Nursing Charity Ball.
Photo submitted
Cynthia Cadigan (L) and Deirdre Cooper at the annual Nursing Charity Ball.
Cynthia Cadigan and Deirdre Cooper had an eye-opening experience this semester during their work with the Refugee Immigrant Advisory Council (RIAC).

The two nursing students, both in the final year of the fast-track program, worked with RIAC as part of their Community Health Nursing Course. They were surprised by what they found about the health concerns and needs of refugees and immigrants.

“No one spoke of typical physical health problems as being at the forefront of their minds,” said Ms. Cooper. “Instead, they spoke about the threat of deportation, integrating into a new culture, finding work, and accessing resources. These issues, and for some the uncertainty about their future, cause them tremendous stress often leading to depression, anxiety, insomnia, and thoughts of suicide.

For many, horrific memories of merciless treatment, civil wars, and loved ones lost are unrelenting and add to the stress that they are already trying to manage.”

Ms. Cadigan said their interactions with RIAC challenged them to re-examine their own biases about refugees and immigrants and what “being healthy” actually means. They adopted the World Health Organization’s definition, which states that “health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Ms. Cooper said that their work with immigrants and refugees showed them that being healthy means feeling secure, trusted, welcomed, and appreciated. “Above all else, it means being a full and equal participant in our society and our world.”

Their experience motivated the two nursing students to reconsider their notions about the role of nurses in non-traditional settings.

“If we wanted to promote health and well-being amongst the refugee and immigrant population, we could not ignore the fundamental issues in their lives,” said Ms. Cooper. “We could not conduct a teaching session on healthy eating and somehow fool ourselves into believing that we were addressing their needs. Instead, we had to adopt the role of educator and advocate.”

They are now trying to educate fellow classmates and peers about the issues faced by immigrants and refugees.

“By advocating on behalf of the immigrant and refugee population in this way, we hope that we may cause others to challenge their own biases and reconsider how they view immigrants and refugees, in much the same way as our experiences at RIAC have challenged us,” said Ms. Cadigan.

 


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Annika Haywood and Dr. Brian Stavely
Iceberg near the Ocean Science Centre
(L-R) Cynthia Caddigan and Deirdre Cooper

Next issue: May 20, 2004

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