Current Content
Volume 48 - Number 5
September/October 2022


Nursing Care of Refugee Children: A Historical Perspective

Michelle C. Hehman

Nurses have a professional responsibility to advocate for dignified, respectful, and culturally appropriate care for all individuals. Refugees are a particularly vulnerable patient population, and each year, millions of individuals flee violence or persecution amid global unrest and a worsening climate crisis. Quality nursing care for refugees, specifically refugee children, requires a sophisticated level of cultural sensitivity and policy awareness. Nurses make up the largest health care profession and are well-positioned to collectively advocate for inclusive legislation that promotes equitable access to services for refugees. Evidence from nursing history can support policy advocacy, documenting how nurses have been on the front lines of health promotion for migrant populations in the past. This study utilized traditional historical methods with a social history framework to analyze the nursing care of immigrant children at Ellis Island hospitals from 1892 to 1924, focusing on the intersection of policy and place. Public Health Service nurses on Ellis Island learned to navigate multiple roles with potentially competing responsibilities, balancing their duty to care for immigrant patients with their obligation to protect the health of the nation. Today, legislators and health care providers appear at odds because increasingly restrictive immigration policies are often incompatible with strong public health measures that call for greater access to care for migrant communities. As the primary point of contact in refugee health, nurses can help bridge the gap between providers and lawmakers by using historical evidence to demonstrate public health policy and immigration legislation can be mutually beneficial.