New beginnings

Edmonton family physician helps new Canadians get a healthy start

May 8, 2015

After spending four years working in West Africa, Dr. Valerie Krinke knew she wanted to find a way to dedicate herself to helping vulnerable populations. “I came back to Edmonton in 2003, and at that point Edmonton was the only city in Canada without a refugee health clinic,” recalls Dr. Krinke. With the help of University of Alberta infectious disease specialist Dr. Stan Houston and community agencies, she set out to change that.

The stories that you hear are so incredible; it gives you such an interesting perspective on your own life. And the opportunity to treat someone with dignity and kindness when they may have never experienced that is truly a gift. My life is richer for it.

Established in 2007 as a component of Catholic Social Services’ Immigration and Settlement Service (Resettlement Assistance Program), the New Canadians Clinic offers health services to the 350-400 federally sponsored refugees who arrive in Edmonton each year. Many of these refugees come from war-torn regions of the world, where health care is limited or non-existent.

“We see some health issues that are more exotic, like malaria,” explains Dr. Krinke, “but we also see long-standing health issues such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiac issues that have either never been tended to properly or have gone undiagnosed.”

Once their initial health screening has been done, Dr. Krinke and her team help connect the refugees to specialists where required and arrange for preventative health care, such as updating vaccinations. They also help coordinate prenatal care for pregnant women.

“Most people are very grateful for the care, but there are some who have had bad experiences and are mistrustful of medical professionals. I’ve met people who’ve had surgeries and were never told why. I tell them that in Canada we’ll always explain what is happening.” Dr. Krinke works with the help of translators to ensure patients understand.

Upon arrival in Edmonton, refugees spend two weeks staying in a special reception house managed by Catholic Social Services. “It’s a really full two weeks for them,” explains Dr. Krinke. “In that time their settlement counselor helps them figure out accommodations, transportation, banking … all of it.”

A family physician at Edmonton’s Mom Care Docs, a low-risk obstetrical practice, Dr. Krinke spends one day each week at the New Canadian Clinic and is on call as needed. The chance to work with refugees who are just starting to build their new lives in Canada is something she describes as a privilege.

“The stories that you hear are so incredible; it gives you such an interesting perspective on your own life. And the opportunity to treat someone with dignity and kindness when they may have never experienced that is truly a gift. My life is richer for it.”

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