The Mayo Clinic's Innovative Program Created To Improve Health Literacy Of Somali Refugees

Approximately 100,000 Somali refugees have entered the United States in recent years, about 40% oh whom have settled in Minnesota. Although the climate, culture, and geography couldn't be more different from Somalia, there are a number of active voluntary organizations (VOLAGs) based out of Minnesota working with the U.S. State Department to home refugees. Ultimately, the U.S. State Department has the final say in where refugees are located.

Since many of the first wave of refugees were relocated to Minnesota, other Somali refugees and immigrants have continued settling there because of a pre-established community and family ties. The number of Somalis in Minneapolis-St. Paul has grown so much over the years that the city established a “Little Mogadishu”.

Like all foreigners making a new life in a new land, Somalis have struggled with some drastic societal differences, specifically in the areas of health and wellness. In Somalia, the focus is not on preventative care, and this has often led to mistrust between U.S. doctors and Somali patients when the doctor wants to run a test or prescribe medicine although the patient feels fine.

Obesity has also become a problem with the Somali population. The diet in Somalia is mostly rice, bananas, and meat, with little fruits or vegetables. This isn’t a problem when walking is the main mode of transportation in Somalia, however, since the main form of transportation in the U.S. is by vehicle, this leads to weight gain when the Somali diet isn’t modified to reflect a more sedentary lifestyle.

Fortunately, the Mayo Clinic Health System staff, nurses, and physicians and The University of Minnesota Family Medicine Residency faculty and residents are addressing important health care needs in the American-Somali community. In 2014, Fardousa Jama, a Mayo Clinic Health System translator and Somali community facilitator, and her father surveyed Somalis in the community to find out what they need from health care. They worked with the aforementioned health services to create a program to help Somalis understand and navigate the American health care system better.

From June 2015 to June 2016, the Mayo Clinic Health System, in conjunction with The University of Minnesota Family Medicine Residency program, offered 12 monthly seminars to the Somali community. These seminars included information on nutrition and exercise, services offered by the health care system, and addressed basic questions such as, “What is health?” and “When should you go to the doctor?”

These sessions have met with great success because of the open forum and community-like environment created by the professionals leading the seminars. Medical professionals are learning more about the Somali culture in order to understand their patients better, and Somalis are learning how to navigate the American health care system better.

Deemed the Somali Health Literacy Project, the Mayo clinic is continuing the program starting July 1, 2016. Over the course of this program, The University of Minnesota Family Medicine Residency program will track statistics for Somali patients being seen at the Mayo clinic in order to assess the impact of the seminars.