Academic Psychiatry

, Volume 43, Issue 5, pp 471–479 | Cite as

Learning from Our Patients: Training Psychiatry Residents in Refugee Mental Health

  • Vanja Pejic
  • Thida Thant
  • Robyn S. Hess
  • Sibyl Cornell
  • Juan DeJesus
  • Joel Yager
  • Daniel SavinEmail author
Empirical Report



Psychiatric residents are increasingly called upon to work cross-culturally, serving diverse populations including refugees. This study aims to (1) understand the training experience of psychiatry residents working with refugees and (2) assess the level of satisfaction of refugees, most of whom are Iraqi, who seek psychological treatment at the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH)’s Refugee Mental Health Program of Colorado (RMHPC).


Using qualitative methodology, over a 1-year period, independent evaluators interviewed a group of nine residents who chose to participate in an RMHPC elective and also interviewed ten Iraqi refugee patients who sought services at the clinic. Recordings of the interviews were transcribed and analyzed using thematic analysis. Emerging themes were identified for both resident and refugee patient interviews.


Five major themes emerged summarizing residents’ experiences: (1) adapting practices to meet refugee needs, (2) value of supervision, (3) cultural barriers, (4) need for extra resources, and (5) effect on future practice. Four major themes emerged summarizing Iraqi refugees’ experiences: (1) reasons for seeking treatment, (2) barriers to treatment, (3) residents’ knowledge of culture and needs, and (4) quality of treatment.


This study’s findings highlight the complexities of effectively treating refugee patients and suggest ideas for training residents. Additionally, they offer important frameworks for developing, implementing, and evaluating culturally responsive practices in the context of training psychiatry residents and other mental health professionals. An essential key to this process was giving voice to refugees who accessed and engaged our services.


Refugee Mental health Training Culture Psychiatry 



We would like to acknowledge the Caring for Colorado Foundation, which provided funding for interpretation and translation services for this study.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Approval to conduct the study was obtained through the Colorado Multiple Institutional Review Board.


On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest to disclose.


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Copyright information

© Academic Psychiatry 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vanja Pejic
    • 1
  • Thida Thant
    • 2
  • Robyn S. Hess
    • 3
  • Sibyl Cornell
    • 3
  • Juan DeJesus
    • 2
  • Joel Yager
    • 2
  • Daniel Savin
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  2. 2.University of Colorado Denver School of MedicineDenverUSA
  3. 3.University of Northern ColoradoGreeleyUSA

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