This month, I was able to conduct a focus group with the Burmese refugee men. It was extremely insightful! The men were gracious in sharing with me their past experiences with dental care in refugee camps, their experiences since coming to the U.S. (if they had any) and any questions they had about taking care of their teeth. For January, I hope to do a focus group with the women and to do a write-up of my findings.
I was able to get in touch with a local Burmese refugee leader through a mutual contact a few months ago. During our initial visit, she shared with me her vision of educating small groups of Burmese refugees about basic life skills and health – things necessary for them to survive, especially in a new country. She explained to me that she saw her people struggling to adjust to a new way of life where education seemed unattainable and healthcare seemed daunting. I was amazed by her passion and determination and encouraged her to pursue this dream. After keeping in touch, she contacted me this month saying she was ready to begin her classes and asked if I would join her in developing lessons/curriculum for oral and overall health topics that would be pertinent to them. I am scheduled to do a focus group for the Burmese refugees in December. I am excited for these endeavors and am looking forward to see how everything unfolds.
September and October has been a great month for the project. I was able to conduct one last focus group for the Bhutanese refugees giving us our goal of three focus groups. From the three groups, I was able to conclude that: 1) referrals are needed for dental clinics that accept adult refugee patients, 2) while some Bhutanese refugees were familiar with brushing, they did not necessarily brush the minimum recommended amount of times per day. Others neither brushed, nor flossed and did not know about floss, flossing, or fluoride. All of the people in the focus groups drank from bottled water. This is significant, because there is no fluoride in bottled water. Lastly, 3) there is no history of brushing, flossing, or dental care provided by a dentist for the Bhutanese refugees back in Nepal. Some of them were introduced to the concept of brushing their teeth only once they came to the U.S. What this means is that there is a varying spectrum of oral healthcare knowledge among the Bhutanese refugees. This is an amazing opportunity for the project to help address these different concerns. So where are we going with the project? Over the next few weeks, I will connect with community dental clinics that provide for adult dental care. In addition, I will be collaborating with the Bhutanese refugee leaders, ECHOS, and other health professional students to create a fun and educational dental event for the Bhutanese adults and youth.
This past month, I had the opportunity to conduct another focus group with the Bhutanese refugees and had the honor of sharing a meal with both the adults and youth that were present. They were kind and very hospitable. I discovered though, that the most meaningful conversations I had with them wasn’t in the focus group, but rather afterwards when we were all sitting on the their apartment floor eating the fruits and snacks I brought for us to share. Both the adults and youth (mostly middle school and high school students) asked a lot of questions, not really pertaining to oral health, but to school. They asked me questions and asked for advice about high school, college and the path I took to get to dental school. One of the girls entering her freshman year of high school aspired to be a nurse, but was scared that it would be too hard and wasn’t sure what was involved to get there. One of the boys present (elementary school aged) commented that he wanted to be a doctor. My conversations with those students made me realize the importance of my project in not only helping refugees to see the importance of oral health as it relates to overall health, but also inspiring these students to continue their education so that they can one day help their family and their community. Details to follow soon!
Dental Bridge took a break to get some much-needed R&R. July was a busy month for the Bhutanese refugees as they had a lot of community activities. We are looking forward to starting up strong in August!
To assess the dental healthcare needs of the Bhutanese community, I conducted my first focus group of 8 Bhutanese refugees in June. A focus group is a group of about 6-12 people that participate in a guided (“focused”) discussion. The idea is that conversations are more comfortable and would help me to better understand the attitudes, knowledge, and concerns that the refugees have about dental care when I hear about them firsthand. It was a rocky start asking the right questions for discussion but we ended well. The Bhutanese refugees were open and gracious to answering my questions. I learned a lot from that experience, especially about how to start and continue conversations, which I hope to improve on for future groups.
I had a great meeting with the Bhutanese refugee leader a few weeks ago in May and our project is a go! We will begin our first focus group (1 of 4) on June 10th to discover any areas of concern that they may have about their oral health. God willing, we will be able to collaborate on something to effectively address their needs.