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The Refugee Health Navigator Program was developed to address common barriers to health care and to increase health systems comprehension for refugees. Students from different programs at Georgetown University are paired together and matched to a newly arrived family working with a resettlement agency. The program is intended to help remove the barriers to health care by identifying critical resources for newcomers, helping them navigate through health care services and systems, and promoting newcomer health.

In this Article:


  1. Purpose for the Program
  2. Key to the Success of the Program
  3. Key Actors and Participants
  4. Impact and Outcomes
  5. Implementation Steps
  6. Challenges Faced
  7. Resources and Partnerships
  8. Looking to the Future
  9. Contact

1. Purpose for the Program

The Refugee Health Navigator Program (RHNP) emerged from the need to assist newcomers as they face many challenges when resettling in the US and trying to access healthcare. Challenges such as language barriers, acquiring health insurance, understanding how insurance and the health systems operate, or finding appropriate providers prevent them from accessing the care they need. This program aims to help remove the barriers healthcare newcomers face by identifying critical resources for newcomers, helping them navigate through healthcare services and systems, and promoting newcomer health.

2. Key to the Success of the Program

The RHNP is based on the “Patient Navigator” model. However, volunteers are called “Health Navigators” to use person-centered language. The interdisciplinary approach of the RHNP is unique. It allows each navigator to bring their unique training, knowledge, and perspective to the situation and work alongside their pair to assist the newcomer. This interdisciplinary approach allows navigators to learn from one another’s respective programs as they pursue their educational journey, and hopefully foster a greater sense of camaraderie, teamwork, and respect amongst health professionals.

3. Key Actors and Participants

The following actors and participants are involved:

  • Resettlement Agencies: Catholic Charities and ECDC. Namely, staff: volunteer manager & health liaisons
  • Student Volunteers: Students at Georgetown University in Undergraduate, Nursing, Post-Bacc Pre-Med, SMP, GEMS, and Medical Students
  • Program Leadership: Students at Georgetown University School of Medicine and Faculty Mentors within the Department of Family Medicine
  • The beneficiaries are newcomers connected to services with the agencies

4. Impact and Outcomes


  • Refugee families have been able to settle in better with the guidance of RHNP volunteers, staff, and partners.
  • Families have been able to navigate the medical system better in terms of getting medical appointments, access to medications, and other basic needs.


  • Refugee families have become better equipped and integrated as they settle into the US.
  • Volunteers have had the opportunity to learn about refugee health and needs.
  • Volunteers have been able to work with their partners from different programs to foster interprofessional teamwork.

5. Implementation Steps

Here are a few steps to implement a similar program:

  1. Determine if there is a need in the area and identify the volunteer base.
  2. Partner with a local resettlement agency looking to expand or strengthen their newcomer health services. 
  3. Create orientation materials and determine the onboarding process and the logistics for how the volunteers will work with the agency.
  4. Volunteer application process, orientation, and onboarding within the agency.
  5. Pair volunteers together and assign them to a newcomer/family.

6. Challenges

  • Student schedules: Given the volunteer base consists of students with varying schedules, it can be difficult to schedule training sessions at a convenient time for all. This was mediated by recording the sessions for students to watch on their own time.
  • Matching process: there was a delay in the matching process for the navigators and newcomers due to scheduling conflicts. It was difficult to find common availability between both parties and the health liaison to facilitate the initial meeting.
  • Communication challenges: some volunteers reported difficulty getting in contact with their assigned families. This was due to differences in availabilities and possibly also unclear expectations of the role of health navigators and how they are to be utilized.
  • Technology: barriers to using technology.

7. Resources and Partnerships

This program requires its leadership team to recruit and manage volunteers and act as a bridge between the student volunteers and agencies. A partnership with a resettlement agency is key. Because it’s currently entirely virtual, the financial resources committed are minimal.

8. Looking to the Future

The current program is entirely virtual which allows volunteers to participate in the program without a need for transportation. Based on a suggestion from our resettlement agency partners the program is considering planning initial in-person meetings for the volunteers and their assigned families. This could help establish trust between the refugee families and volunteers and also better establish the goals and expectations of the program so all participants are on the same page. In addition, for 2023-2024, the program expanded its volunteer base to include undergrad students at Georgetown University. Also, they started conversations with students at a few other universities about this model and they are taking steps to implement a similar program in their city. Looking a few years down, the Program may look into creating a Refugee Health Clinic where clients could receive healthcare services and could connect to the navigator program directly. However, such a project would require a full-time administrative staff.

More information on the RHNP is available here: Georgetown Students Help Recently Arrived Refugees Navigate the U.S. Health Care System and Students Connect Refugees to U.S. Health Care Services. You can also download the program description above.

9. Contact Information

Name: Sarah Kureshi
Title: Faculty Advisory for Refugee Health Navigator
Organization: Georgetown University
Email Address: georgetown.rhnp@gmail.com and sk795@gerogetown.edu
Location: Washington D.C.

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