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Student-run clinic helps refugees navigate healthcare system

April 15, 2022

REACT Clinic on West Campus Run by ASU Students, Mayo Clinic

In the summer of 2016, George Bcharah’s family obtained visas to leave war-torn Syria and travel to the United States.

Shortly after arriving in Arizona in 2018 — they had been in Minnesota for two years — the Bcharahs discovered they were ineligible for health insurance due to their legal status. George’s father was out of heart medication. His mother had to be taken to the emergency room for severe chest pains.

George has become responsible for navigating the maze of the healthcare system, which can be daunting for American citizens, let alone refugees who face language barriers and other hurdles that prevent them from finding the better care.

This experience led Bcharah, an Arizona State University junior majoring in medical microbiology, to become co-director of REACT, a student-led partnership between ASU and Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine.

REACT — Refugee Education and Clinic Team — is an entry point for Maricopa County refugees into the health care and social service systems; his clinic is open the first and third Saturdays of each month on ASU’s West Campus.

“Once I moved here, I saw how difficult it was for my family to adapt,” Bcharah said. “I kind of stepped in to help. But not all families have this kind of resource. Maybe their children are young. Maybe they don’t speak English. So that’s what we’re trying to do here. We try to become a support system for these families.

George Bcharah (center) with former REACT members Jonathan Sayegh (left) and Aarzoo Kumar. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

REACT got its start in 2018 when ASU student Julia Lorence, after attending the Mayo Clinic’s Transform conference, was inspired to start an organization to serve undeserved communities. The Mayo Clinic medical students had already created their own student outreach group in the same communities, and the partnership was born.

“The Dean of Mayo Medical School tells a story that medical students came to her and said, ‘We want to open a free clinic,'” said Judith Karshmer, Dean of ASU. Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “And she said, ‘Well, would you like to at least pass anatomy?'”

The students were not deterred.

They developed relationships with refugee organizations in the valley, created a comprehensive care program and finally, after being delayed by the pandemic, were able to open the clinic earlier this year.

REACT, which currently includes about 30 ASU students — most of whom are pre-health majors and Barrett, the Specialized College — is not a primary care provider for refugees. Instead, it’s a first step to getting them full medical help.

Think of it as a triage center.

“We kind of fill that gap for people who have just arrived or people who have fallen through the cracks and are no longer in the health care system,” said Rujuta Takalkar, a student at ASU, co -director of REACT. “We provide physical and health exams to identify people who may be at high risk and need to be seen by a specialist or other primary care provider. And then we make sure to refer them to practices that are already working with refugees and are equipped to best serve refugees.

“We also provide referrals from social services. So if any concerns arise during the visit, such as housing issues or food insecurity, we make sure to provide them with resources and referrals on where to go.

Student worker sitting at health clinic reception

On April 2, Rujuta Takalkar works at the front desk of the clinic on ASU’s West Campus. Photo by Samantha Chow/ASU

REACT leaves nothing to chance.

Refugees are transported by Lyft to the clinic to ensure there are no transportation issues. Once inside, they first meet a patient navigator, an undergraduate student who helps them fill out forms. If there is a language barrier, REACT uses the CyraCom translation service to facilitate better communication. Once the forms are completed – the patient navigator will guide the patient through the forms to answer any questions they may have – the patient meets with a medical student.

The medical student develops a care plan and presents it to the volunteer doctor on site. Once the plan is finalized, they explain it to the patient and provide him with the necessary referrals or medications. Then the patient is taken home by Lyft.

REACT also provides follow-up services to ensure patients have received recommended care and help with any issues that may have arisen.

“We’re trying to really form a support system for patients as they begin their journey here in the United States,” Bcharah said.

resource sheet with information on local businesses for refugees

The clinic provides its patients with resource sheets. Photo by Samantha Chow/ASU News

ASU and Mayo students started this journey to help others. What they discovered in the process is that they also get benefits from it. Students are volunteers — REACT is not an integral part of ASU’s curriculum — and as such develop a personal interest in the health of the communities they serve, said medical student Chance Marostica. freshman at Mayo Clinic and one of the original founders of REACT.

“These students volunteer their time,” Marostica said. “The fact that they are here tells you that they care. It means something more to them. This is what really drives and fuels their passion. That’s why there are students who worked on it years ago, who knew they would never see it open, but they still get involved.

REACT is also an opportunity for students – both undergraduate and medical – to better appreciate the refugee community they serve.

“What they find is that they have a lot to learn from these people,” Karshmer said. “These people bring their own strengths, their own culture, their own values. It’s what we can learn about ourselves, how to integrate it and celebrate it. It’s just an amazing opportunity to grow as a graduate or student in a medical program.

Karshmer expects REACT to continue to grow as word of its availability spreads through the refugee community. For now, having its doors open is an accomplishment worth celebrating.

“It’s a really amazing long-term sustained goal,” Karshmer said.

Top photo: The REACT Clinic is a student-led partnership between ASU and Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine to address health care disparities in refugee communities around Phoenix. Patients can be seen by caregivers in one of ASU’s three West Campus exam rooms. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Scott Bordow
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