Promoting Health and Safety for New Americans

Physician Andrea Green works with a patient at the New American Clinic in Burlington. She has been the director of the clinic since 2006.
Physician Andrea Green works with a patient at the New American Clinic in Burlington. She has been the director of the clinic since 2006.

For the last twelve years, Andrea Green of Charlotte has been a physician at the Vermont Children’s Hospital, working in outpatient services. As part of her job, Green works with UVM medical students and residents. Although she occasionally teaches a class at the University, her primary work with students is clinical teaching.
Another part of Green’s job is with the New American Clinic, which treats refugees. She has been the director since 2006. Initially, the clinic’s clientele was mostly Somali Bantus, but in 2008 there was a large influx of refugees from Bhutan, who now form the majority of the client base. Vermont resettles approximately 400 new refugees every year, with many coming to the Burlington area.

Green works with interpreters at the clinic, but there are more barriers than just a lack of a common language. “When I took on this job I tried to learn as much as possible,” she said. “We try to have as much knowledge as we can of their culture, geography, history, politics and how they arrived here.” The clinic has grown to three physicians as the refugee population has increased. In addition to learning about the physical conditions of their patients, the physicians pay attention to their psychological conditions since many have suffered a great deal of trauma before coming to the United States.

Green does a lot of outreach and advocating on behalf of her clients, including work with the school district to ensure that the younger generation is well-served. “I consider all refugee children to have special health care needs because of their experiences,” she said. “They have to integrate and learn a new culture and language, and the adults have to learn a new way of parenting.” Green focuses a great deal on literacy and provides books for her younger patients. “We need to teach kids about the importance of homework,” she said.

Green notes that the refugee population is confronted with a number of issues which are completely foreign to them. Previously, they never had to worry about falling down stairs or out windows because they never had those things in their homes. That’s why the clinic hosts an annual New American Safety Day. Green raised $10,000 this year to provide her patient families with bicycle helmets, car seats, swimming lessons, mouth guards and instruction on food safety and poison control.

Green notes that nutrition is also a major issue. Most of the refugee families went hungry for years and now that food is readily available, they need to be taught about the dangers of soda and junk food.

Green is also a Burlington School Health Consultant, teaching kids about puberty, infectious diseases, the reproductive process and relationships. “It’s really very rewarding,” she said. “Kids are incredibly eager to learn and they ask great questions. They giggle and they’re embarrassed but they’re paying attention and their faces are so engaged.”

Green is happy to be able to work with Vermont’s refugee population. “These families are incredibly resilient,” she said. “We’re working with people who have been through terrible situations, and they smile and laugh and work hard at low paying jobs.” What her clients have been through puts everything in perspective for Green. “I love my job,” she said. “I feel very grateful for it. I learn things every day.”