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J Immigr Health. 1999 Jul;1(3):165-79.

Multilevel healing pursuits of Cambodian refugees.

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  • 1San Diego, School of Medicine, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, Division of Graduate Nursing Education, University of California, 9500 Gilman Drive, Department 0809, La Jolla, California 92093-0809, USA.


The difficult adjustment of Cambodian refugees to life in the United States is no more evident than in their use of the biomedical health care system. When forced by circumstances to seek Western medical care, they often perceive the cause of their symptoms to be untreatable by this technological modality of healing. This attitude is understandable because the lengthy and destructive civil war they survived also extinguished their medical system. Many of the refugees had no contact with Western-style health care until they reached the camps in Thailand. As a result, the Cambodians have had to develop ways to integrate centuries-old indigenous and self-care practices, that they know well, with the modern health care services and technologies, that are new to them. In San Diego they have sought what is for them a new kind of provider, Vietnamese physicians who practice medicine that is culturally appropriate and convenient. Although these multiple systems satisfy them in many ways, a significant number of Cambodians are still not getting well. The constant pursuit of healing is time-intensive and expensive, and ignores the emotional effects of refugee status on physical health.

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