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More Doctors Needed In The Field Of Asylum Medicine, Says Yale Physician

A paper published in this month’s Journal Of General Internal Medicine calls for more doctors to be trained in asylum medicine. These doctors and clinicians perform medical forensic evaluations for people seeking asylum, to assess their claims of persecution and torture.

Dr. Katherine McKenzie is director of the Yale Center for Asylum Medicine and a co-author of the paper. Here are highlights from her conversation with Connecticut Public Radio’s Diane Orson.

On cases she’s seen

P.K. is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country where the ruling government is very repressive. P.K. went to a political protest, which was peaceful. After, the protesters were surrounded by government forces and P.K. spent the next five days in a detention center.

He underwent some of the most brutal torture that I’ve ever heard of in the 13 years I’ve been doing this work. Many of the other protestors were killed. Through a stroke of luck, he was released. I performed a physical evaluation on him and wrote my findings in a medical legal affidavit. This was a couple of years ago, but P.K. was granted asylum.

Another person I saw recently was a young woman from Central America. I’ll call her M.S. She married early and shortly after being married, her husband began to abuse her - beat her, injured her many times to the point where she had to go to the hospital and her life was in danger.

M.S. is applying for asylum. I had to document the scars that resulted from years and years of severe domestic violence. This is someone whose government will not protect her from domestic violence. She came to the U.S. to be safe.

On medical forensic evaluations

It's clear that a medical forensic evaluation increases the likelihood that asylum will be granted. In fact, a study showed a few years ago that of all asylum cases in the U.S., 37.5 percent were granted, and if a medical forensic evaluation is performed, that increased to 89 percent.

On trauma and resilience

The work is difficult. We might see someone as she recounts some of the most traumatic episodes of her life. We might have experienced vicarious trauma, but many times we experience vicarious resilience as we see what these asylum seekers have gone through and how they have emerged.

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