Program helps foreign students navigate health-care system

Each year, the University selects three International Health Advocates from different foreign countries.

by Ed Swaray

After international students said U.S. health-care systems were difficult to understand, the University created a program designed to remedy the problem.

A group of international students and Boynton Health Service in spring 2002 started International Health Advocates, a peer education program designed to help foreign students understand the health-care system.

The program identifies the types of health care international students need and addresses those needs, program coordinator David Dorman said.

“The needs of international students are sometimes different from American students,” he said. “Therefore, we have to find a way to address those needs.”

He said the program provides free information on insurance, student fees, Boynton and University health care, pregnancy test kits, condoms and medical supplies for common colds, seasonal ailments, cuts and bruises.

Dorman said program coordinates also conduct assessments of international students through surveys and focus groups to better understand their needs.

The program is a collaboration between Boynton Health Service and Culture Corps, a program designed to bring students’ cultural experiences to other University students, Dorman said.

Each year, the International Health Advocates program recruits three international students from different countries to serve as advocates. This year’s advocates are from Kenya, South Korea and Argentina.

Nelima Kerre, a biochemistry senior and advocate from Kenya, said the program is important because many international students find the U.S. health-care system complicated.

“Students are usually comfortable with peers,” she said. “So they will be able to ask us questions that they might hesitate to ask a health-care practitioner.”

Kerre said that when she began school she also had problems understanding the on-campus health-care system.

“Now that I understand, I want to help other international students to understand it as well.”

Sei Hoon Ahn, a graduate student and advocate and from South Korea, said the advocates’ roles are crucial to help international students seek medical attention at the University.

“For fear of the high medical bills, some students prefer to self-medicate,” Ahn said. “It does not have to be that way.”

He said when students understand how much insurance and Student Services Fees cover, they probably will not settle for over-the-counter medication.

Haiyan Jia, a graduate student from China, said she hopes students take advantage of the program because it is easier for students to go to their peers for information.

She said the Friendship Association of Chinese Students and Scholars, of which she is a member, has conducted health information sessions for incoming Chinese students for the last two years because most of them do not understand the U.S. health-care system.

Frederic Wandey, a graduate student from the Congo, said although International Student and Scholar Services provides health-care information during orientation, it is still important to have information available throughout the year.

Wandey said because the United States health-care system is different from many countries it is important that the International Health Advocates take the initiative to work with international students.

Currently, there are about 4,500 international students from 130 different countries enrolled at the University, according to International Student and Scholar Services.