Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap seeks to improve the cultural competence of future physicians through individual work with immigrant or refugee families.

Since 2000 Bridging the Gap has sought to improve the cultural competence of future physicians. The program is a partnership with Harvard and Tufts Medical Schools in which medical students are paired with immigrant/refugee families. Students support families in recognizing and addressing simple health-related needs, and act as advocates, educators, mentors, and friends, while learning first-hand about the cultural issues that pose challenges to the families’ ability to access health care. Events and workshops teach families how to overcome the obstacles families may face, about available resources, Medicaid issues, immigration, and landlord issues. There is additional information about tutoring students, sharing meals together, teaching the children computer skills and supporting the families during the resettlement process. Students have regular contact with MGH Chelsea staff, and meet together in monthly reflection sessions that are designed as trainings to help facilitate their involvement in this program and share lessons learned from their experiences with their host families. The students and their families are from Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Morocco, Somalia, and Western and Central Africa, as well as immigrant families from Central American countries and Brazil.  The Refugee School Program Coordinator has joined as the leader of the program. This provides the added benefit of closer communication about school age children, their families and the medical students.

Medical students and their families strive for the following outcomes:

  • Create cultural competent aspiring medical students
  • Motivate medical students to seek future positions in community based settings
  • Ensure integrated service model approach that empowers families over time to be self sufficient


For the assurance of consistent satisfaction for the immigrant and refugee families and to enhance the educational needs of the medical students:

  • Connect students and families through two yearly social events (i.e. match day and graduation day)
  • Conduct weekly feedback sessions over email/phone on strategizing solutions to social services needs
  • Lead monthly reflective sessions to capture family review assessments and best approaches
  • Coordinate mid year check in
  • Provide referrals, in a timely fashion, for the families to social services organizations or MGH Chelsea providers as needed

In 2012, 4 families were served and 7 volunteers from Harvard Medical School participated. Approximately 32 contacts between the students and families were made. All the medical students had a dedicated clinician who ensured feedback to pediatricians, community health workers and adult medicine providers.