BYU nursing students help refugees in Utah


BYU nursing students are taking the lead in the new movement to care for struggling refugees.

Approximately 70,000 refugees came to the U.S. last year. They came from countries terrorized with war and political disturbances.

Once in Utah, refugees may struggle with issues ranging from knowing which foods to refrigerate to finding affordable health care.

BYU is responding to refugees’ needs by sending some of its students to help the refugee families.

As part of the clinical practicum for the nursing spring course, Public and Global Health Nursing, BYU nursing students travel to Salt Lake where they meet with refugee families from around the world.

These students will help the families by teaching them valuable skills and helping them to adjust to life in the United States.

The team of nursing students attending class where they discuss how they can best help their refugee families. (Natalie Saunders)

“Some of the places we go, I feel like I’m not even in Utah,” said nursing student Michelle Dickey. “It’s just a completely different situation than I’m used to living in or used to seeing.”

Five pairs of students are currently in the program. Each pair works with three families from around the world.

“We have to keep in mind in this course ‘through small and simple things,’ because these are overwhelming problems that these families have and we may only be able to tackle a small thing,” said Debbie Edmunds, one of the faculty advisers in charge of directing and helping the nursing students. “But it can make a big difference in the life of that person.”

This program isn’t just making a big difference in the lives of the refugees; it is impacting the students as well. Nursing students Michelle Dickey and Elisabeth Young said this experience has been an “eye opener.”

“It’s just been really cool seeing how strong just humans are, even in really tough situations,” Dickey said.

Edmunds says she has been able to see a change in all of her students during the program.

“I think the students … become very culturally sensitive,” Edmunds said. “They become very aware of the blessings that we have, where we live and the circumstances that we live in, and they are very surprised at what a culturally rich experience this course is.”

However, the course is not without its challenges. Language is a major barrier for the nursing students. Many times refugee families don’t speak English and a translator isn’t available.

“We want to do things that are truly meaningful and that will really help them, and it’s kind of hard to pinpoint what those things are,” Young said.

Dickey and Young are only able to communicate with one of their families through an 8-year-old son.

“I wouldn’t ever think that I would be so so grateful for an 8-year-old, but when we showed up and this kid was there and he could speak English, it was such a huge relief,” Young said. “He’s a lifesaver. He’s the one that is translating for us.”

However, according to Dickey, “You never know exactly what he is telling his parents.”

Michelle Dickey (left) and Elisabeth Young (right) talk about their experiences working with the refugee families. (Natalie Saunders)

Even with these barriers, the nursing students are doing a lot of good. After presenting their work with refugees at a refugee conference, Edmunds was told, “BYU is way ahead of other people; this should be happening all around the world.”

Many resources are available for others to get involved and help refugees. However, not everyone has the nursing background available to help in the same capacity as these students.

“Some (refugees) have been able to adjust better than others,” Dickey said. “Maybe our biggest job is just helping to make that adjustment a little bit easier. Even when you feel like you can’t do a ton, just being a friend or being someone that they can talk to helps a lot.”

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