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