Chloe Polutnik, a second-year Community Health Sciences MPH student, completed her practicum during summer 2011 at Heartland Health Alliance.
In what way did this experience enhance or change your career goals?
My experience with Heartland Alliance’s Refugee Health Programs greatly enhanced my career goals in wanting to promote healthy lifestyle behaviors among disadvantaged communities. My experience really increased my interest in refugee populations, both in refugee conditions abroad and after resettlement.
What was the most valuable thing you learned through this experience?
One of the most valuable things I learned was intercultural communication and cultural competency. I think this is so important when working with international populations, to really understand the people you’re working with and to make sure that what interventions you’re trying to introduce take into consideration their history and are culturally appropriate.
How do you think this experience will prepare you for work in the field of global health?
I gained great qualitative data collection skills. I was able to conduct interviews and focus groups with refugee women to better learn if they thought a pregnancy program was appropriate, determine what they learned, and to use this information to improve the program. It was also great to learn how to work through translators and understand language barriers that will always occur in global health settings.
How did your perspectives or worldview change as a result of this experience?
Before my practicum, I knew of certain refugee situations that are more highlighted in the media, but during my experience with Refugee Health Programs, I was opened up to so many refugee situations in countries I never knew had problems. It made me realize the impact of conflict and political oppression has in the lives of so many people across the globe and how this impacts their emotional and physical well-being.
Did this “local” experience provide you with exposure to “global” issues?
Yes, my experience in Chicago exposed me to many global issues. I realized you don’t always have to go to another country to do global health work. The refugees I primarily worked with were Burmese, Bhutanese, and Iraqi and had very different histories and cultures and different health needs.
What got you interested in this field of research or project?
I was first interested in refugee health after a guest speaker from Heartland Alliance spoke in one of my classes and shared what their program involves. She used a personal story from one of the health promoters who was a refugee herself and lived in a refugee camp for 16 years. I was moved by the story of these refugees who survived in these camps and now had to adjust to life in the United States, facing new barriers, including environment, language, nutrition, and navigating the health care system, that will impact their health here.
What is your hope for the impact of your research/work?
I hope that the data I collected to evaluate the refugee pregnancy support group will be used to further improve programs. Refugee Health Programs is starting another pregnancy and early childhood program soon. I am hoping the evaluation of the first pregnancy support group can make the new one even more culturally appropriate and address what the expecting mothers and mothers with young children really want to learn so that they can have optimal maternal health experiences in this new country.