health professional and laptop

University of Minnesota’s Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility Creates Innovative, Online Refugee Health Screening Training

Jennifer Syltie Johnson

Two years after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, the world faces growing humanitarian needs including the crisis unfolding in the Ukraine as individuals flee the country by the thousands for safety and protection.

Since 2012, the University of Minnesota has partnered with the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) to build the organization’s capacity to perform health screenings and assessments for U.S.-bound refugees.

This partnership, led by the University’s Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility (CGHSR), has focused on its mission to advance health world-wide through collaborative partnerships, sustainable programs and academic excellence.

“The pandemic has disrupted refugee resettlement,” said CGHSR’s Global Collaborations Coordinator Erin Mann. “Before COVID, most of our trainings were held in-person overseas on multiple continents. We didn’t want to lose the rich relationships we’ve built with IOM over the years, so our focus turned to converting our training curriculum online.”

Partnerships, Programs and Academic Excellence to Advance Health Worldwide

Mann serves as the project manager for several capacity-building projects at the center. Throughout the summer and fall of 2021, faculty and staff from CGHSR, the Medical School and other institutions worked to convert in-person health screening training to online training.

While most refugees are healthy, some have serious health conditions that may complicate resettlement. The IOM standardized physical examinations for pre-departure health assessments aim to improve health and decrease health risks and improve refugee integration. To date, several hundred physicians have participated in the training across the globe—either in-person or online.

To develop the online training, the center collaborated with M Simulation—the U of M’s team of simulation professionals dedicated to delivering training experiences and innovative simulation-based educational opportunities for health sciences learners at the U of M, statewide and beyond. This initial partnership on the IOM project has also led to future opportunities for the CGHSR and M Simulation to work together, including on initiatives in global women's health.

“We worked with M Simulation to film a dozen short training videos to demonstrate components of the physical exam using the M Simulation training space, and their expertise in videography and online simulation,” said Mann. “It’s critically important that all refugees have a similar health exam performed in the same way so that a refugee is resettled safely, and that the migration is safe for the refugee.”

The physical exams help avoid medical emergencies during transport or the early stages of resettlement. The high-quality, interactive videos developed by M Simulation were created with the look and feel of an exam room and demonstrate the various components of the physical exam.

The U of M team works with designated master trainers identified by the IOM physicians through an internal IOM nomination process. The IOM has approximately 15 physician master trainers representing different regions including Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia and other regions who were nominated by IOM leadership. According to Mann, the IOM master trainers serve in their role to conduct trainings along with their other clinical duties, and they are keenly aware of the challenges their colleagues face in terms of overseas medical exams.

“Through the online refugee health screening training, we’ve been able to build our remote teaching capacity with IOM during the pandemic,” said Mann. “We will continue to foster that as we slowly emerge from the pandemic, and this has led to exploration of other future projects with IOM.”

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