Trinity Western Magazine

No. 26

Making a difference for refugees

Mum Alum and MD

Making a difference for refugees

AS THE MEDICAL COORDINATOR AND FAMILY PHYSICIAN at Bridge Refugee Clinic, Martina (Byl ’96) Scholtens arguably has one of the most varied caseloads in Vancouver. “I’ll see a history professor from Iraq, and then an illiterate mother of nine from Somalia,” she says. Helping them makes Martina feel she is making a specific, tangible difference in people’s lives. “James calls us to ‘care for orphans and widows in their distress’ (James 1:27). I appreciate being in a position to provide direct, practical care to people in difficult circumstances.”

Martina began her practice in West Vancouver, where the patient demographic was, in her words, ‘worried well’—people who are generally healthy but need a lot of reassurance. A defining moment came when a patient was concerned about the lustre of her hair. “It was the second 30-something patient in one week who came in to see me because her hair wasn’t as lustrous as it was in her 20s,” Martina remembers. “Now, if you are worried about a change in your hair, it may point to something more serious. I’m not dismissing that as a valid concern for your doctor. But those patients made me think, Wait. I did medical school and residency training for this?” At the time, Martina was doing some occasional shifts for the refugee clinic, and she realized that she found the work there more satisfying.

That feeling energizes Martina’s work. “I can make a difference in the lives of my patients, who have sought refuge in Canada from all over the world,” she says. Her patients’ conditions are so diverse, and often more severe than what a doctor would see in regular practice. Sometimes Martina is able to provide a simple fix, such as diagnosing diabetes; sometimes it’s more complicated, especially for those who have never had accessible care.

Martina had a Congolese patient with post-polio syndrome, who had never had rehab services and whose wheelchair was archaic. Some patients, such as a Myanmar woman who was raped and saw her husband murdered, suffer from nightmares, insomnia, and flashbacks. “It’s heartbreaking,” says Martina. “Some days, I’m ashamed to be human when I hear the stories of what some have done to others.”

Though difficult, the harder visits are what make Martina’s work worthwhile—and there are definitely moments of levity. Last year on December 23, an Iranian woman came into the clinic. “She needed blood work,” Martina says, “but asked if she could wait a few days to go to the lab. The patient lowered her voice and said carefully, ‘I’m planning to celebrate a holiday this week.’ ‘You mean Christmas?’ I asked. She gasped, ‘You too?’ Yes, me and the rest of the country, I thought. And we take that freedom for granted.”

Martina shares her experiences of life and faith as the wife of Pete (’97), working mother of four children (ages three to 13), and a part-time physician in her thoughtful blog,

by Ashley Freedman
Photography by Katrina Grabowski '12

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