A refugee who protects US military health – World Refugee Day 2018

Health professional working in disease prevention and military health

Cambridge, Massachusetts – a health professional honors her colleague working in military health on World Refugee Day 2018

Five years ago, I “found” Tej Mishra on the internet when I googled Bhutanese refugees. I reached out to him for help. I was a doctoral student at the time, and just started working on a study focusing on refugee health, specifically the mental health of Bhutanese refugee youth and families. I had no experience with the population and knew I would need assistance getting to know and working with the community. What started out as an informal consulting relationship turned into Tej being employed full time as a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and led eventually to his present career in military health. Since our first contact, my relationship has grown to where I now consider Tej a mentor, colleague, and friend.

It is easy for me to talk about what I have gotten out of knowing Tej and other individuals with a refugee life experience. I’d rather spend time telling you about what Tej has done for you – other Americans and those who aspire to become Americans.

Even if you don’t know Tej personally, you and your loved ones have benefited, and continue to benefit, from his contributions to this country.

Tej cared for you when you were sick. When Tej first arrived in the US, he worked at a hospital delivering meals to patients. While that might not sound like much, his compassion was such that he developed an easy rapport with patients and became an important member of the care team. On at least one occasion, doctors and nurses asked him to come and help work with a patient because he had a more trusting relationship with the patient than the health professionals did.

Tej educates your children and your health care providers. While working towards his masters in public health at Boston University and during his time at Harvard, Tej mentored undergraduate and graduate students from around the country and Canada. He shared his own refugee life experience and introduced students to others in his community, encouraging students to think critically about global in/justice and challenging them to become socially responsible professionals and adults.

Tej protects your health and our military health. Tej moved on first to work as an epidemiologist for the state of Massachusetts and now has a similar position with the US Navy Health Service. He monitors military health and the spread of health problems in the general population and is part of a team that intervenes to protect the well-being of the public.

In addition to his work in military health, Tej continues to give talks to medical students and health care providers to educate them about the needs of refugees, barriers they face in receiving care, and how to engage in meaningful clinical encounters. Although his work in this regard has focused on refugees, educating medical professionals about health disparities and teaching them to look beyond a diagnosis when engaging with any patient serves to improve the care all of us receive.

It is time to disrupt and dismantle the harmful and inaccurate narratives being told in this country about refugees – that refugees are “takers,” that they are a financial burden, that they are a risk to the welfare of America. We ask, “Can we afford to open our country to refugees?” and, “Are refugees deserving of our compassion?” Instead, let us turn our gaze inwards and ask, “How can we afford to not welcome refugees to America?” and, “How can we be deserving of the compassion shown to us by refugees?”

I am glad that Tej “found” me five years ago, and that others like him have knowledge and wisdom that benefits us all.

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World Refugee Day 2018

This month, to celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, US-born Americans across the United States honor newcomer Americans with a story from their state – a story of a refugee, asylee, or immigrant they admire. From soldiers to politicians, employers to students, social workers to business people – everyday Americans tell their stories to celebrate the goodness and courage of the newcomers who make the United States a better place.

Every day in the month of June, the Refugee Center Online will publish a new story from a different state. Check back for new stories each day: therefugeecenter.org/world-refugee-day.

Learn more about World Refugee Day. All across the country, there will be events celebrating World Refugee Day. Visit this map to find an event in your community.

 

About Rochelle Frounfelker
Rochelle Frounfelker is currently a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University and, in partnership with refugee communities, conducts research on the mental health and wellbeing of older Bhutanese refugees.