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Episode 285: Anti-Racism in Medicine Series – Episode 21 – Psychosocial and Cultural Considerations for Providing Healthcare to Immigrant and Refugee Populations

CPSolvers: Antiracism in Medicine Series

Episode 21 – Psychosocial and Cultural Considerations for Providing Healthcare to Immigrant and Refugee Populations

Show Notes by Kiersten T. “Gillette” Gillette-Pierce

May 2, 2023

Summary: This episode highlights the psychosocial and cultural considerations for providing healthcare to immigrant and refugee populations. During this episode, we hear from Dr. Altaf Saadi, a neurologist who focuses on neuropsychiatric health disparities and addressing the needs of displaced populations at Mass General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Naweed Hayat, a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at the University of California San Diego, who applies his own lived experience of resettlement to his clinical practice. Together, our guests explain how trauma shows up in those who experience resettlement, and the role of trauma-informed and culturally-responsive care for refugee, asylee, and immigrant population in clinical practice.. This discussion is hosted by Sudarshan Krishnamurthy, Ashley Cooper, and LaShyra Nolen. 

Episode Learning Objectives

After listening to this episode, learners will be able to…

  1. Explain how the current state at the border is informed by historical immigration injustices.
  2. Describe how physiological and psychological trauma show up among immigrant and refugee populations as a result of the violence and injustices experienced during migration, at the border, during the resettlement  process and across the lifecourse thereafter. 
  3. Identify the role of trauma-informed, culturally-responsive care for refugee, asylee, and immigrant populations and how it can be operationalized in clinical practice.


  • Written and produced by: Sudarshan Krishnamurthy, Ashley Cooper, LaShyra Nolen, Kiersten Gillette-Pierce, Rohan Khazanchi, MD, MPH,  Dereck Paul, MD, Jazzmin Williams, Victor A. Lopez-Carmen MPH, Naomi F. Fields, Jennifer Tsai MD, MEd, Chioma Onuoha, Ayana Watkins, Michelle Ogunwole MD, Utibe R. Essien MD, MPH
  • Hosts: Sudarshan Krishnamurthy; Ashley Cooper, and LaShyra Nolen
  • Infographic: Creative Edge Design
  • Audio Edits: Garrett Weskamp
  • Show Notes: Gillette Pierce
  • Guests: Dr. Altaf Saadi and Dr. Naweed Hayat

Time Stamps

0:28 Introduction

0:31 Episode introduction

1:15 Guest introductions

3:50 Origin stories

8:06 The current state of the border

18:13 Culturally competent and trauma-informed care 

24:50 ICE and policing

36:28 Application of teachings

Episode Takeaways

  • Origin Stories — For Dr. Hayat and Dr. Saadi, the work that they do is deeply informed by their lived experiences as migrants themselves as well as in their professional roles as clinicians who serve immigrant and refugee populations. 
  • State of the Border — Policies that happened under the Trump administration and now under the Biden administration have left people vulnerable to injustices in Mexico and other Central American nations. People are fleeing persecution, gang violence, and other violence such as sexual or other violent assaults and now they must also face the additional burden of the lack of access to basic necessities like food, water and shelter. A lot of compounding trauma occurs at the border that has potential downstream mental health implications for individuals and their families. 
  • Culturally Competent and Trauma-Informed Care — Interpersonal components such as screening for trauma exposure and providing resources to families are an important aspect of trauma-informed care, and it should also include efforts at the organization level to create sanctuary or immigrant-friendly spaces and implement immigration-informed care, which builds on the concept of trauma-informed care by honing in on the unique factors associated with immigrant populations, e.g. protocols for broaching sensitive topics like immigration status and policies to ensure people are safe from immigration enforcement.
  • ICE and Policing — Instances of immigration enforcement in healthcare settings are rare, and when they do happen they can look like patients being interrogated at the bedside or even being arrested as they step out of the hospital just after visiting someone. These instances contribute to immense fear that can act as a deterrent from seeking care or engaging with any other helping professional institutions in the future–this goes for the individual(s) directly impacted and the people within their communities. 
  • Impact of Health Records — The impact of health records within the context of healthcare for immigrant populations is complex because migration status really should not be documented explicitly as it can open people up to harms such as stigma from providers or being turned over to law enforcement agencies who may cooperate with immigration enforcement. Many organizations, such as the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, recommend against documenting immigration status in medical records.
  • Application of teachings — It is advised to amplify the work that is already being done in communities and identify what areas at the systems level need to change as well as the key stakeholders. 


  • Dr. Hayat discusses the five major waves of migration in the last fifty years, resulting from the Soviet-Afghan War, the Afghan Civil War, the Fall of the Taliban, August 2021 US and western forces departure, and how he grew up during the 1990s right after the collapse of the government. He recounts street fights in Kabul as well as an overall theme of people going back to a focus on survival, or the need for food, shelter, water and safety. 
  • Dr. Saadi discusses how her parents left Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, where he was targeting many Iraqis with Iranian ancestry and Shi’a Muslims–which included members of her family. She notes she was born in Iran and her family emigrated to Canada and then to the United States just a month before 9/11. She recounts this time as particularly tumultuous for not only Muslim Americans but also South Asian Americans, Sikh Americans, as well as Arab Americans who were not Muslims. 
  • Dr. Saadi highlights that the majority of immigrants do not come through the US-Mexico border, even for undocumented folks. Additionally, in the case of folks who are undocumented, it is likely the case that they attained this status as a result of overstaying their previously valid visa. 
  • Dr. Saadi discusses the Biden administration rule proposal that would essentially prohibit refugees from seeking asylum in the US, making them ineligible for asylee status. 
  • Dr. Saadi highlights that there needs to be a greater focus on the continuum of experiences when we discuss patients who are immigrants or forcibly displaced because there is not often a clear pre-post distinction. Many people’s journeys can involve being in an encampment, being detained in immigration prisons, or stopping in multiple countries before reaching the final destination.
  • Dr. Saadi also uplifts the fact that while we focus primarily on those we have clinical encounters with, it is always important to mention that there are many people that did not make it to clinic for an amalgam of reasons — many people lost their lives in the quest for better lives and freedom from persecution.
  • Dr. Hayat stresses the difference that cultural psychiatry, cultural competency, and the biopsychosocial model make in building rapport and there is a lot that goes on in between pre- and post-resettlement and those experiences have to be taken into account, especially in cases where there are language and cultural barriers. He highlighted the DSM-5 Cultural Formulation Interviews.
  • Dr. Saadi recommends avoiding documentation of immigration status in medical records, or having clear guidelines on what to do if immigration enforcement is present at the clinical setting. 
  • Dr. Saadi notes that we must not see people as the sum of their traumas, they are so much more than that — especially in the case of forcibly displaced peoples and immigrants. We must not reduce people to their trauma exposure alone.   
  • Dr. Hayat interestingly mentions that some organizations have been able to build relationships with law enforcement, educate them, and share different challenges to help realize a common goal. 
  • Dr. Hayat notes that while organizations recommend against documenting immigration status in medical records, needs can still be met through partnerships with community organizations. Dr. Saadi adds that we can collect this data, and there is immense groundwork that must be done to develop protections for immigrant and refugee populations and ensure the data are protected. 
  • Dr. Saadi mentioned a toolkit around policies and actions that can be implemented at an organizational level that is publicly available at She also mentions additional organizational-level policies and actions that can take place beyond what is mentioned in the toolkit such as setting up a medical legal partnership where people can connect to attorneys that can help them with their immigration case or civic engagement promotion.  She also mentioned Dr. Mark Kuczewski’s sanctuary doctrine toolkit that focuses more on the individual level. Refer to Good Sanctuary Doctoring for Undocumented Patients for more information. Dr. Hayat mentioned his colleague, Dr. Olivia Shadid, who does work on mental health evaluations for asylum seekers, which can be found here.


  1. Morris JE, Saadi A. The Biden administration’s unfulfilled promise of humane border policies. Lancet. 2022 May 28;399(10340):2013. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(22)00741-3. Erratum in: Lancet. 2022 Jun 2;: PMID: 35644152.
  2. Saadi, A. Undark. Opinion: Covid-19 Shows Us Why We Should Keep ICE Out of Hospitals. 
  3. Saadi. A. Boston Globe. The invasion of Ukraine reminds me of growing up in Iran. The trauma is lasting.
  4. Shi M, Stey A, Tatebe LC. Recognizing and Breaking the Cycle of Trauma and Violence Among Resettled Refugees. Curr Trauma Rep. 2021;7(4):83-91. doi: 10.1007/s40719-021-00217-x. Epub 2021 Nov 13. PMID: 34804764; PMCID: PMC8590436.
  5. Valtis Y, Okah E, Davila C, Krishnamurthy S, Essien UR, Calac A, Fields NF, Lopez-Carmen VA, Nolen L, Onuoha C, Watkins A, Williams J, Tsai J, Ogunwole M, Khazanchi R. “Episode 16: Live from SGIM: Best of Antiracism Research at the Society of General Internal Medicine’s 2022 Annual Meeting” The Clinical Problem Solvers Podcast – Antiracism in Medicine Series. May 3, 2022
  6. Berkman JM, Rosenthal JA, Saadi A. Carotid Physiology and Neck Restraints in Law Enforcement: Why Neurologists Need to Make Their Voices Heard. JAMA Neurol. 2021;78(3):267–268. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2020.4669
  7. James J, Heard-Garris N, Krishnamurthy S, Cooper A, Calac A, Watkins A, Onuoha C, Lopez-Carmen VA, Krishnamurthy S, Calac A, Nolen L, Williams J, Tsai J, Ogunwole M, Khazanchi R, Fields NF, Gillette-Pierce K. “Episode 18: Remedying Health Inequities Driven by the Carceral System” The Clinical Problem Solvers Podcast – Antiracism in Medicine Series. October 18, 2022.
  8. Chiesa V, Chiarenza A, Mosca D, Rechel B. Health records for migrants and refugees: A systematic review. Health Policy. 2019 Sep;123(9):888-900. doi: 10.1016/j.healthpol.2019.07.018. Epub 2019 Jul 30. PMID: 31439455.


The hosts and guests report no relevant financial disclosures.


Saadi A, Hayat N, Krishnamurthy S, Cooper, A, Nolen L, Gillette-Pierce K, Calac A, Essien UR, Fields NF, Lopez-Carmen VA, Onuoha C, Watkins A, Williams J, Tsai J, Ogunwole M, Khazanchi R. “Episode 21: Antiracist Healthcare for Immigrant and Refugee Populations ” The Clinical Problem Solvers Podcast – Antiracism in Medicine Series. April 25, 2023

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