When she was 13 years old, Chelsey Lim, MD, boarded a plane that took her from her home country of South Korea to her grandparents’ town of Moorestown, NJ. As an international student, she navigated her 7th grade experience amid an unfamiliar language and an entirely new culture. Several years later, as an undergraduate at Emory University in Atlanta, she recalled her own experience with immigration when she tutored teen and young adult refugees through her university’s afterschool tutoring program.
“I was involved with a group of refugees in Clarkston, Ga., which is one of the most diverse square miles in the country,” said Lim, who now lives in Boston, Mass. “I related to their stories of moving to a new country, even though I came here as an immigrant, and having to learn the language. Plus, the education system and culture were so different.”
Lim is now a first-year resident at Mass General for Children (MGfC), where she is exploring career paths that focus on caring for refugees in hospitals and through community health centers. “Working with people who are refugees has made me realize how privileged I am by comparison,” she said. “I came here by choice and with support from my parents. There wasn’t unrest in my home country and I wasn’t being forced to relocate. It was humbling for me.”
In Lim’s experience, the patient population in Boston is more diverse than that surrounding the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her medical degree. Many people in Boston and the surrounding area speak Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Arabic and more. The tapestry of languages and people’s life experiences created enlightening, yet humbling view on health care for Lim.
“I’ve learned how different and difficult people’s experiences and journeys can be. For example, as a provider, some things I commonly see in immigrant/refugee population are not being up to date with routine vaccinations or finding follow-up care,” said Lim. “You have to ask yourself ‘Do they have health insurance? What’s their home environment like? What’s their health literacy?’”
It is also not unusual for visits to take longer when patients communicate through an interpreter, which is common among refugee and immigrant populations. “This is a challenge when you’re working in a busy environment, but it’s made me very grateful that we, as providers, can serve these patients and that we have Interpreter Services readily available,” said Lim.
“I’d also like to explore the possibility of starting a mentorship program for teen and young adult immigrants and refugees who want to work in health care and provide more education to my fellow residents on how to care for those populations,” said Lim. “It’s helpful to know what to ask and how to best care for those who need it.”