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Washington State University’s College of Nursing students in Spokane, WA, in collaboration with IRC-Spokane staff, serve as health system navigators by assisting with medical and dental appointments and providing training on insurance and health access issues for newly arrived refugee families.

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 and Additional Resources

1. Purpose for the Program

This program addresses two challenges at once: first, it engages Nursing students who might otherwise get limited experience with immigrant and refugee populations before graduation. Secondly, it helps alleviate the particularly time-consuming challenges associated with navigating the US healthcare system for refugees and resettlement agency staff.

2. Key to the Success of the Program

This program addressed an acute need of the resettlement agency to better serve their clients and simultaneously provide an extremely educationally relevant experience to WSU students.

3. Key Actors and Participants

The key actors and participants are the WSU-Spokane Nursing students, IRC-Spokane staff, refugee families, and individuals from a variety of countries including Ukraine and Afghanistan.

5. Impact and Outcomes

Some of the impacts and outcomes this program had so far:

  • Expanded WSU partnerships with both the resettlement agency and the institution’s branch campus
  • Introduced student nurse interns to populations that are not in their normal patient/client base which the nurses well received once they understood the impact they were having on this vulnerable population
  • Clients benefited by having people care and assist them with medically-related questions that they could answer without having to refer them to somewhere or someone else.

6. Implementation Steps

Here are a few steps to implement a similar program:

  1. Have or create a relationship with your local resettlement agency that can help identify an issue large enough that can be fixed or benefited without being so large that progress cannot be measured.
  2. Have a team of dedicated professionals who believe in the goals and have experience in fixing or working on similar issues.
  3. Coordinate training for working with refugees between the academic supervisor and the resettlement agency staff, and initiate that coordination before students begin.
  4. Design a plan flexible enough to adjust to “real world” conditions, yet solid enough to create an impact and show results.

7. Challenges 

The learning curve for the nurses after the training was steeper than the program had anticipated and that delayed getting students and refugees together as quickly as desired. However, once this challenge was overcome, they excelled in the delivery of the services expected and reported that it was a very valuable learning experience that would be of great value to their careers.

8. Resources and Partnerships

The program used start-up grant funds for a part-time graduate assistant to help with program set-up and evaluation. Now that the program is implemented it is making use of the practicum program the College of Nursing already has.

9. Looking to the Future

This program has already produced a grant-funded project that tackles other refugee issues such as tutoring refugee children in English language proficiency to help them find earlier success in school. Associated with this, under the same grant, the institution is collaborating with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) – Spokane to mentor adult refugees and other displaced people in the Spokane area to navigate some governmental offices and access benefits such as employment assistance, health care, Social Security, etc.

10. Contact Information

Name:  Paul Whitney
Title: Interim Vice President, International Programs, Washington State University
Organization: University of Washington-International Programs

State: Washington

Partner contact:

IRC – Spokane
925 W. Montgomery Avenue
Spokane, WA 99205
(509) 290-5502

More information on this program: https://ip.wsu.edu/wsu-irc-partnership/

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