How do international students fare with health care in Canada?

Pilot study seeks to answer questions over female international student use of the health care system

A pilot study looking at the current health care accessibility and use by female international students is being conducted on the TRU campus. The researchers, senior lecturer Florriann Fehr and co-investigators Kim Munich and Wendy McKenzie are collecting data through interviews with women on their experiences with Canada’s health care system.

The interviews are focusing on the “specific cultural and religious influences [that] may influence unaddressed health care needs while attending Canadian post-secondary programs,” according to the description of the study currently being handed out to international student women interested in participating.

“The little information we have has been largely on mental health,” said Allison Perry, fourth-year nursing student and assistant researcher in the study.

Perry has always been interested in being culturally competent and culturally safe in health practices. This research allows her to pursue both her passions of anthropology and nursing.

Florriann Fehr, Kim Munich and Wendy McKenzie are investigating female inter- national student experiences with the Canadian health care system at TRU. (Ashley Wadhwani/The Omega)

Florriann Fehr, Kim Munich and Wendy McKenzie are investigating female international student experiences with the Canadian health care system at TRU. (Ashley Wadhwani/The Omega)

According to Fehr, the data is already showing insufficiencies in Canadian health care, particularly maternity care. For example, international students, specifically women from Saudi Arabia, are having babies in Kamloops, but where these women are getting post-pregnancy care from is unclear.

“There’s this big disconnect. The nurses are saying ‘we don’t know where they’re going afterward,’ and public health is having issues contacting them, too” Fehr said. “As educators and ethical people, we think ‘well I hope that they’re getting the services they need because they’re here going through TRU.’”

Fehr completed her PhD with a focus on students raising children while they’re in post-secondary programs.

“My whole interest is making sure that this transition, of coming here on campus and having their academic life, is balanced with all the other stuff they need to have done outside of school. There’s this vulnerable group or unknown group of TRU international students, females in particular,” she said.

The data is already revealing a misunderstanding on the insurance coverage that international students have, where some women students believe it’s cheaper to travel back to their home countries in order to have basic procedures, according to Fehr.

“They miss all these facts…and we’ve had a couple that have gone home for something as simple as a yeast infection. [Here] it’s an over the counter [medication] or maybe they go through a doctor, but [it’s] not known how simple it is,” Fehr said.

The data has also shown a disconnect between Western uses of certain medications and other cultural beliefs or practices. According to Fehr, some Chinese students bring an extra bag of luggage filled with traditional medicines from home such as teas and herbs.

“They don’t have any trust with the Westernized system. There is no bridging between the kinds of [medications] we have offered here and their stuff…when they go and see a doctor, they’re worried that they’re going to be given medicine that isn’t safe,” Fehr said. “They have a different way of looking at medications and treatments and antibiotics too.”

Other cultural differences found in the data include the concept of 911. In mainland China they have several emergency numbers for specific emergencies, according to Fehr.

“Some have phoned 911 not knowing what to expect on the other side and have panicked,” she said.

Other misconceptions Fehr has noticed through the interviews have been the role a pharmacist plays in prescriptions, how breastfeeding clinics work and a struggle adjusting to Canadian food leading to skin and stomach issues.

The group has mostly interviewed female students from China and India, but the pilot study is looking to expand to all groups on campus.

“It’s very preliminary, just understanding the basic expectations and experiences these women have had thus far,” Perry said.

Perry hopes this opens doors for more research.

“At this point we’re just collecting data. We need more answers and we definitely need other cultures,” Fehr said.