November 1, 2017
When he first began volunteering with SAMS Hellas, Dr. Alexis was afraid to ask his patients about their stories—worried he would “reopen fresh wounds”.
Dr. Alexis, an internal medicine physician who had been in practice for two years, joined the SAMS Hellas team on the ground in Greece for three weeks, providing care in camps in Northern Greece serving refugees. The need for a family physician is high with many refugees residing in these camps for many months.
Although he had volunteered with an NGO in London on providing social support to undocumented migrants accessing healthcare in the UK, this was his first experience working with refugees in a medical capacity. Inspired by a senior colleague who had previously worked with SAMS, Dr. Alexis decided to join the SAMS Hellas Greece team for three weeks.
With time, he realized that asking patients about themselves allowed them to share, or not share, as much as they wanted. His favorite aspect of working in the clinics was getting to know patients and their stories. He found that actually asking patients about their experiences reminded them that they are unique human beings rather than just a UNHCR registered number.
“Our media often portrays refugees as a homogeneous group of people but, on the ground, I have realized that you have such a variety of people in these camps, all with their unique stories and personalities.”
By conversing with his patients, he was also able to identify mental health problems and properly refer them to a partner NGO for psychosocial support.
In his three weeks with SAMS Hellas, Dr. Alexis became known amongst SAMS Hellas medical volunteers for his attentive nature. One nurse, Nurse Jessica, praised his welcoming nature, describing how Dr. Alexis made sure to give each and every one of his patients all the time they needed to ensure quality care.
Dr. Alexis recalls a patient case that truly shows the impact that SAMS medical volunteers have as patient advocates.
A SAMS Hellas medical colleague succeeded in relocating an entire family away from the camp into a more suitable accommodation, as his patient, a child, suffered from severe asthma that was exacerbated by the dusty conditions of the camp.
“The credit here goes to another volunteer doctor who was working with me and did all the hard work in that case. As I followed up this patient subsequently, I saw the fruit of his labor” he said.
Dr. Alexis has hopes of returning to Greece to volunteer with SAMS Hellas once again and gives special thanks to the team’s translators—whom he finds to be extremely valuable members of SAMS Hellas.