OUWB Global Health Spotlight: Caring for Patients from Conflict Zones
global health lunch and learn - refugee care

Before Ranit Mishori, M.D., associate professor of Family Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine and director of the department’s global health initiatives, began her presentation to the OUWB community she revealed that being a physician wasn’t her first calling.

Having lived in war-torn cities around the globe as an international journalist, Dr. Mishori entered medical school so she could heal the wounds of the people who were the subjects of her reports. She traveled to the Middle East, Bosnia and Somalia for 10 years covering the plight of refugees as a radio and TV producer.

Today, she shares her knowledge with medical professionals so they can evaluate and provide refugees the proper medical care.

In her presentation at OUWB, “The Unique Role of Physicians Caring for Patients from Conflict Zones” she explained that the flight of refugees is a long, often painful process that eventually leads them to resettlement in a country that is very different than the one they fled.

“Refugees are here because they suffered trauma in their country of origin. They have a well-founded fear of persecution,” says Dr. Mishori. “The after affects of the trauma often lead to mental health issues or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and chronic medical conditions such as cardio vascular disease and hypertension. These conditions may not have been detected during the flight process.”

She says physicians whose patients are refugees should find out the conditions of the refugee’s flight, the medical structure of the country of origin, and treat them based on the trauma experience. Knowing this background can lead to discovery of chronic disease.

“Asking them about the circumstances that brought them to asylum is one way to begin the conversation,” says Dr. Mishori.

Physicians need to take into account that these patients do not have a full understanding of their new country’s health system and often do not inquire about it due to the language barrier. They may be reluctant to share their history, but a physician’s unique patient / doctor relationship can eventually allow them to probe the patient to find out the type of suffering that was endured, especially if torture is suspected.

To connect with the refugees, Dr. Mishori advised using culturally relevant interventions such as therapy, yoga, meditation, art therapy and medications. She encourages physicians to embrace compassionate health care especially with these unique patients, as it can lead to a rewarding medical career - just as it did for her.