Caring for refugee patients in the community: Dr Geraldine Duncan

Amanda Lyons

20/11/2017 10:04:57 AM

Dr Geraldine Duncan, a GP in Wagga Wagga in NSW, has been a key figure in refugee healthcare since the town became a resettlement area in the late 1990s.

Dr Geraldine Duncan has been a key figure in Wagga Wagga for refugee healthcare
Dr Geraldine Duncan has been a key figure in Wagga Wagga for refugee healthcare

‘I’ve just become more and more involved over time,’ she told newsGP. ‘Now, after 15–20 years, I’d say about 70% of my patients are from a refugee background.’
In Dr Duncan’s experience, refugee patients don’t need different treatment from their GPs. Those GPs, however, can provide more complete care by using tools such as interpreters and some cultural knowledge.
‘I don’t categorise who people are,’ she said. ‘They’re just people with particular problems, and it just happens that refugees have lots of problems that we need to work through.
‘I have become quite adept at using an interpreter, but when you get to know somebody well, you don’t necessarily need to take a long time to care and communicate.’
Wagga Wagga NSW’s largest inland city and often attracts people from nearby smaller towns. But it also takes in migrants from further afield, welcoming new settlers from such faraway locations as Myanmar, Afghanistan and the Sudan.
Dr Duncan has found that providing healthcare for refugees often comes with challenges around language barriers and differing cultural practices that require patience and understanding to navigate.
‘The father of one of my patients, a little girl from Afghanistan, came in asking to see me straight away,’ she said. ‘I’d just finished a busy morning of surgery and had five minutes to eat my lunch before seeing my next patient, so a staff member rebooked him for 6.00 pm.
‘He tried to be polite but it was obvious he was very anxious about the rescheduled time. The reason, of course, was because he was Muslim and had been fasting all day – he wanted to get home when it was dark and finally eat. I recognised the issue, which we weren’t initially sensitive to, but it was a big deal for him.
‘Most other patients would have given the reasons why they can’t book for 6.00 pm, but when you don’t have the language and you’re trying to be polite, it’s very hard to get those messages across.’
In addition to such challenges, Dr Duncan has also found plenty to enjoy in the work.
‘It’s very rewarding and these patients are extremely grateful for your time and effort,’ she said. ‘They appreciate all that you do for them.
‘I think Wagga Wagga is a particularly great area for regional settlement of refugees as the agencies work well together. There are many people in our community working to welcome these people and I’m grateful to be part of it.’

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