LINNY KIMLY PHUONG
MASS HEALTH EDUCATION FOR REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS
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Interviewed and written by Jefferson Tang

Linny Phuong is the Chair and Founder of The Water Well Project - a not-for-profit that provides much needed health education to refugees and asylum seekers. Since its conception in 2012, The Water Well Project has educated more than 10,000 individuals facilitating over 600 sessions across Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. In 2018, The Water Well Project was awarded a Melbourne Award for contribution to multiculturalism by a community organisation.

Linny is also currently an Infectious Diseases Registrar at Austin Health, has completed a Master of Public Health at Melbourne University, and was a pharmacist prior to studying medicine. She is the well deserved recipient of the AMA Doctor in Training 2017 Award.

INSPIRATION BEHIND THE WATER WELL PROJECT 💡

My parents came to Australia in the late 1970s as Vietnamese refugees. My sisters and I were born in Australia, so we got to see what it was like for them to navigate the Australian healthcare system. We attended their medical appointments and acted as interpreters for them. As a practicing pharmacist it became apparent to me how important primary healthcare was, and that accessible health information made a big difference as it enabled patients to engage in preventative care.

As junior doctors, most of us engage almost solely in acute care when people get to the hospital. Health education sessions delivered by The Water Well Project are delivered in spaces outside of the hospitals and clinic rooms, thus allowing individuals to feel more comfortable and ask questions. Healthcare professional volunteers are afforded an opportunity to get hear firsthand stories from refugees and asylum seekers about their barriers to better health outcomes, including cultural beliefs and stigmas. To add to this, a lot of our volunteers feel quite satisfied after doing a health education session, having contributed to the community using their unique set of skills and knowledge.

The Water Well Project sessions allow group discussion, which means that participants can learn from each others’ stories, rather than receiving a one-sided lecture.

Personally, I think one of the most important topics we cover is mental health. Many of the communities we work with experience mental health issues, partly due to their journeys which lead to their arrival in Australia. Our mental health sessions cover mental health awareness, so that participants learn how being able to recognise symptoms in themselves and in each other, and also provides them with an introduction to relaxation techniques. It’s a very sensitive topic, so we know to be really careful when we deliver these sessions.

JUGGLING WORK AND MULTIPLE PROJECTS 🤹

I love my job. I love infectious diseases. I also love the refugee health space. It would be really hard to stay motivated if you pursued something you hated. With the degrees I did - I really enjoyed pharmacy when I was studying it, I really enjoyed medicine when I studied that, and I really enjoyed my public health degree, as it was a different stage in my career journey and I was able to balance it with work. I think it’s important to follow your passion and find what gives you joy. This may sound very cheesy, but I’ve found it to be true.

MEDICAL CAREER ADVICE 👩‍⚕️

Don’t let the climb consume you. You’ll feel like you’re competing against your colleagues who are all very smart, all Type A personalities, seemingly going for similar positions and who have almost identical backgrounds. You can try to get ahead by doing research projects and publications, in addition to your exam study and full-time work. However, I think it’s a lot! It’s definitely something that perhaps medical students and junior doctors need to consider and somehow be better prepared for.

My advice is to pursue your passion. Don’t be put off by people telling you that there’s no job in whatever specialty you want to be in. If you’re passionate about it, you’re going to be great at it and opportunities will come up. Personally, along my journey, I have been told not to do paediatrics or infectious diseases due to limited job opportunities - how this pans out, we will see. But I really believe you’ve got to create your own path, and hopefully opportunities will arise in doing so.

LIFE ADVICE 🧬

Put yourself in the shoes of others. It’s hard to consider why people are reacting the way they are, until you consider what they are feeling or experiencing. The Water Well Project constantly teaches me about considering the individual. Someone in front of me, may avoid healthcare or be particularly vulnerable to depression due to their lived experiences; another may thrive in spite of their experiences. People are so interesting. If someone shares a story with you, if you really listen, you may learn something new.

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