What are migrants’ experiences of the Australian health system?

The 2021 census of Australia shows that 27.6% of all residents were born outside Australia, and almost half the population have a parent who was born overseas.

A female doctor wears a pink shirt, she has a stethoscope a resting on her shoulders. She is taking the blood pressure of an Asian Woman. No faces are visableAs expected, the health of and healthcare use by migrants has received significant scholarly attention in Australia. We recently conducted a critical interpretive synthesis to understand how Australian research conceptualises migrants’ experiences of the Australian health system. The study, published in the International Journal for Equity in Health outlines three critiques on how the Australian literature conceptualises migrants’ care encounters.

We found that the Australian scholarly literature and policy documents tend to view, approach and study migrants and their experiences through homogenising and reducing migrants’ (1) cultural identities, (2) linguistic affiliations and/or, (3) geographic origin. This reduction and homogenisation is problematic as it presents migrant patients through a specific, narrow culturally bound lens, and prejudicially anticipates their English language ability. As a result, migrants’ and providers’ struggles in their care encounters are understood within very broad, and ultimately not so useful cultural and linguistic identity frames. Our critique is that such a reductive and homogenising conceptualisation discounts and ignores the diversity and heterogeneity within migrant populations in Australia.

Efforts to improve the responsiveness of the Australian health system to migrant populations requires researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to consider the multiplicity, fluidity, and emergent nature of the migrant identity. Health system actors should also understand how migrants’ identities are co-constructed, reinforced, and contested during their interactions with health professionals and their ‘counter-identities’.

As our migrant population continues to grow, the insights from this paper can help to improve the responsiveness of Australia’s health system to the needs and expectations of all in our community regardless of origin.

Kimberly Lakin is a PhD Candidate at the Nossal Institute for Global Health
Sumit Kane is a Professor of Health Systems at the Nossal Institute for Global Health

Lakin, K., Kane, S. A critical interpretive synthesis of migrants’ experiences of the Australian health system. Int J Equity Health 22, 7 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12939-022-01821-2

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Kimberly Lakin