Ali, Saulat & Shifa Clinic

Two Medical Partnership students helped start Shifa Clinic – a clinic that provides free healthcare services to the underinsured in the community.

The grand opening of Shifa Clinic in 2017. All photos courtesy of Faiz Saulat.

Before Hamzah Ali and Faiz Saulat began their medical school careers at the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership, they were already leaving their marks in the Athens community.

In April of 2016, Ali and Saulat began work founding the Shifa Clinic with fellow UGA students Vraj Patel, Abdus Subhan, and Ummar Jamal.

Shifa Clinic is a nonprofit clinic sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North American Relief (ICNA) with a mission to provide free healthcare services to the underinsured in the community. The clinic has locations across the country.

Saulat had volunteered with another Shifa Clinic branch in Duluth for two years while he was a student at UGA and saw the need for an addition in Athens after he witnessed first-hand how beneficial the clinic was to the Duluth community.

“I was a sophomore in college at the time and after a year or two of being in Athens, the socioeconomic disparity between the university community and the rest of the town was too apparent to ignore,” said Saulat. “I saw this as an opportunity to bridge the gap I saw, especially from a disparity that students like myself were benefitting from. The director of the Duluth branch was also aware of the poverty level of Athens residents but did not know anyone in Athens to work with on establishing a clinic.”

The group already knew of Mercy Clinic, a Christian-based clinic that also offers free healthcare to underinsured citizens, but it is only open during the week. It was then decided that Shifa would be open on Saturdays to allow flexibility and catch patients who might not be able visit Mercy during the work week.

The group began working on finding local physicians and students who would volunteer at the clinic.

“This is an incredibly special clinic since it is one of the only free healthcare clinics in the nation that has run its administration run by volunteers and students,” said Saulat. “No staff nor provider is paid for the time they graciously choose to volunteer and all the funding from our parent organization goes toward rent, upkeep, and equipment costs for patient care.”

From there, the group found a location for the clinic (435 Hawthorne Avenue), set up a basic filing and patient processing system, and recruited volunteers for administrative work. The volunteer physicians then helped the group secure funding from the ICNA.

The clinic opened in March of 2017 and is open every Saturday. The clinic specializes in internal medicine, rheumatology, family medicine, nephrology, physiatry, neurology, and pediatrics.

“The clinic had humble beginning,” said Saulat. “It started out seeing 1-2 patients once a week every Saturday morning. Some days nobody came, either due to lack of awareness of our services, lack of transport, or personal hesitancy. Eventually we reached a steady flow of 8-10 patients per week and were able to consistently stay open each Saturday morning for a few hours when a physician was present to work with us. This accumulated to countless hours and dollar values of care put into the community.”

The clinic also collects hot food, nonperishables, and hygiene items to distribute to the community. They have made backpacks for the homeless population, offered telescreening for COVID-19, and they’ve even offered transportation services to those who cannot get to the clinic on their own.

“Shifa provides a stepping stone for un/under-insured individuals to receive quality health care,” said Ali. “If an individual in trying times needs help, Shifa is there to provide free health services for however long he/she requires it.”

“While what Shifa Clinic has done for the community likely makes up only a tiny percentage of patient care in Athens, Shifa Clinic and its teams can proudly say that the few patients we do serve, we do so with 100% commitment and through the help from our faith,” said Saulat.

Saulat also wanted to highlight that while the center is Muslim-based, patients do not have to share the same religion to receive care.

“It is a clinic that was founded on Islamic principles of justice for everyone despite their background and unconditional love for others especially those struggling,” said Saulat. “Additionally, despite the importance of the Islamic principles the clinic was founded on, we felt it equally important to provide care outside religious motives. The clinic prioritizes patient relief above everything else. This was especially important since many of our patients have preconceived notions about Muslims and minorities. But when Shifa Clinic Athens was the only place some of our patients could go, it gave them and us a chance to connect over a common goal: caring for humanity.”

“Shifa has worked alongside Mercy Health Center, Athens Nurses Clinic, and the Medical Partnership/Athens Free Mobile Clinic to address the expanding need for free health care,” said Ali. “The clinic has established its trust and presence within the community. The patient population continues to grow weekly as the need for access to healthcare simultaneously grows.”

“You don’t have to have abundant resources to serve one’s community,” said Saulat “If you have upright intentions and remove any desire to impose an ideology or expectation of something in return, then you have achieved a clear, altruistic heart, and that has proven to be the wealthiest resource necessary to make change.”

Saulat gave a TedX talk about Shifa Clinic in 2018 while he was in undergrad at UGA. You can listen to that talk here:

To learn more about Shifa clinic, click here.

For more information about attending the Medical College of Georgia at the Medical Partnership campus

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