Snakes and ladders: An integrative literature review of refugee doctors' workforce integration needs

Samantha Eve Smith (Lead / Corresponding author), Patricia Livingston, Elizabeth Carney, Julie Mardon, Victoria Ruth Tallentire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Introduction: Healthcare systems worldwide are facing a workforce crisis; meanwhile, refugee doctors throughout the world face difficulties in accessing work. The aims of this review were to explore the integration needs of refugee doctors into host healthcare systems from the refugee perspective, synthesise the literature to construct a theory of refugee doctor integration needs and explore how these needs are met or challenged on the pathway to full integration. 

Methods: In this integrative literature review, 11 databases and eight grey literature sources were searched by combining terms for refugee doctor and social integration and limiting to research published in or after 2003. Data were extracted, and quality scoring was completed independently by two researchers. This study utilised template analysis to perform a qualitative synthesis of the data. The multidimensional template included a pre-defined template based on a theoretical framework and a concurrent fully inductive template. 

Results: Twenty-two papers were included, incorporating the views of 339 doctors from 30 different home countries and 10 different host countries. The resultant theory included ‘foundations’ (rights and responsibilities) and three pillars. The ‘learning’ pillar included required knowledge and skills acquisition. The ‘being’ pillar encompassed necessary identity work. The ‘connecting’ pillar comprised social connections, which impacted all other domains. The random and non-linear path to integration faced by refugee doctors was also presented as a serious game. 

Discussion: This study produced a theory exploring refugee doctors' integration needs and how these are met or challenged. Medical educators developing courses for refugee doctors should attend not only to knowledge and skills acquisition but also social connections, identity work and rights and responsibilities. The theory highlights the central importance of social connections. Medical educators can therefore have a transformative impact on refugee doctors' integration. This may also contribute to society by helping to alleviate the workforce crisis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)782-796
Number of pages15
JournalMedical Education
Issue number7
Early online date16 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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