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Refugee Week brings with it a mix of emotions for Mater Assistant in Nursing (AIN) Maria John-Phaltang.
Originally from South Sudan, Maria and members of her extended family spent many years in a refugee camp in Kenya before an aid organisation that had sponsored her brother’s schooling helped bring her and her three brothers to Australia.
“The week brings back a lot of memories but it is also a time to celebrate because now I am safe,” she said.
“I am no longer a refugee I am an Australian citizen. But I will never forget what that experience was like and how I was helped and how lucky I am now—and that is why I want to give back to the refugee community and help others.”
As well as taking on AIN roles across Mater’s South Brisbane campus, Maria works with the Mater Integrated Refugee Health Service and Mater Refugee Complex Care Clinic and continues to support people from her birth country and other refugees and asylum seekers now living in Brisbane.
Maria says she was drawn to Mater because of its genuine commitment to helping refugees and the vulnerable in the community.
“Mater’s listening is what attracted me here,” Maria said.
“I have experienced and seen how our doctors and nurses really listen. They will sit with people who often have very complex needs, more than just health issues, and take the time to understand them and care for them holistically—they care from the heart.
“And they spend time in refugee communities, they have been there when people arrive and while they settle in, they have taken the time to see what is needed—and in many ways it is more than just health, it is advocating for them so that they and their families live happy and healthy lives here in Brisbane.”
Maria, who studied nursing at Australian Catholic University, is passionate about refugee health and in particular mental health.
“In my language there is no word for mental illness, it is not something that is talked about and those who need help don’t seek help—I am very concerned about our young people and I want to use my experiences and the skills I am learning at Mater to help them,” she said.
The Mater Integrated Refugee Health Service (MIRHS) is an innovative nurse-led service that takes exceptional care off the hill and into the community to provide newly arrived refugees with comprehensive health assessments and health support in accessible refugee-friendly GP practices across Brisbane north and south. MIRHS’ specialist refugee health nurses co-locate in GP practices in areas of high refugee settlement and see around 750 men, women and children each year.
This service plays a pivotal role in ensuring that our newest Australians’ health needs are addressed on arrival to assist them to settle well into their new lives here in Brisbane. We also partner with Brisbane North and South Primary Health Networks to form Refugee Health Connect – a one-point-of-call phone number to support clinicians with advice and support in refugee health.
This mission-driven clinic is located in the Salmon Building and provides primary care for people of refugee background with complex medical issues and asylum seekers without Medicare who are unable to access primary care in the community.
Our team of volunteer GPs and specialist refugee health nurses provide holistic care and healthcare coordination to support some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
We are well-supported by other Mater and Queensland Health clinicians with a specific interest in refugee health enabling us to provide specialist services tailored to the needs of people of refugee background including a paediatric clinic, psychiatry clinic and cardiology clinic.
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