This Muslim Clinic, Treating Mostly Latinos, Is What 'Makes America Great' Already

This all-volunteer, free clinic treats an underinsured community based on the teachings of Islam ― compassion for the sick and service to the needy.
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The staff of the Al-Shifa health clinic.
Bianca Almada Zocalo Public Square

MUSCOY, Calif. ― When you drive up to the Al-Shifa Free Health Clinic, there will only be a few cars outside. But when you walk in, you’ll see a full waiting room. Why? Because many of our clients literally walk in.

Open since 2000, our clinic is on the outskirts of the city of San Bernardino, in a largely Latino area called Muscoy. Nearly a third of all residents live below the poverty line, and many of them do not have cars or access to other transportation. Without a clinic like ours close by, checkups would not happen and chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease would be left untreated.

Al-Shifa has an open-door policy to provide care regardless of race, religion or socio-economic status. We serve primarily low-income and uninsured patients. Our website explains that “shifa” is the Arabic word for cure and that the clinic is based on the teachings of Islam ― compassion for the sick and service to those in need. And we’re not alone ― one survey found that there are at least 10 Muslim health clinics that serve the uninsured or underinsured, including non-Muslim-majority communities, throughout the U.S.

“Al-Shifa has deepened my commitment to providing medical care for everyone, regardless of ability to pay.”

About 60 percent of Al-Shifa clients speak only Spanish, so most of the medical staff is bilingual and can translate for doctors who don’t speak Spanish. The staff, as well as the clinic’s volunteer doctors, board members and donors, believe everyone has a right to health care and the right to live a healthy life. It’s very important that there is no communication gap between the physician and the patient.

On a recent morning, a reporter visiting from Zocalo Public Square interviewed a Spanish-speaking gentleman who works as a carpenter and had come in for his regular checkup. He told the reporter that he’s been coming here for a couple of years for help managing his diabetes, that he likes the Al-Shifa doctors and that he can walk to the clinic from home.

I am the clinic manager as well as an aspiring primary care physician. I got my medical degree in Pakistan, and I’m now in the process of obtaining a residency program. I’ve lived in Riverside for eight years, and several years ago, I started at the clinic as a volunteer. I was looking for a place where I could get a feel for how medical care works in the U.S. I heard about this clinic from my family doctor. I like the way everyone helps one another ― the spirit of service here goes to the heart of what good medicine is about.

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Dr. Duc Nguyen of the Al-Shifa health clinic, with a patient.
Bianca Almada Zocalo Public Square

Al-Shifa relies on medical care volunteers. For example, Dr. Duc Nguyen, who was the scheduled doctor on the day Zocalo came to visit, is an internist by specialty. He sees patients at Al-Shifa for four hours every Friday, donating his time. He is currently employed at Kaiser and has been there for many years. The clinic relies on people like him to provide a high level of care. The rest of our staff is also made up primarily of volunteers as well as interns from Job Corps, the career technical training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Our annual budget is tiny ― just $240,000. Most of our funding comes through private donors, with additional support from Kaiser Permanente and the city of San Bernardino. Everything here was donated: the parking lot, the building, the staff and medical equipment. Our 5,000-square-foot clinic houses 19 exam rooms, but despite its size, it is a modular building that manages to accommodate our patients’ needs. Al-Shifa Clinic would certainly benefit from a permanent facility, but funding is limited and our goal for now is to make the most of what we have.

The clinic has between 30 to 45 doctors volunteering each month and sees about 200 patients a month on the medical side. We try to offer everything under one roof. We offer both primary and specialty care, including cardiology, pulmonology, neurology, physical medicine, nephrology, orthopedic surgery, phlebotomy and rheumatology. The clinic also offers gynecology services, free mammograms and pediatric care, as well as a low-cost dental clinic.

“The spirit of service here goes to the heart of what good medicine is about.”

In addition, the clinic provides preventive care and wellness education, including support to help quit smoking and to help deal with diabetes and weight management. We offer EKGs, echocardiograms and cardiac stress testing ― free of charge, as well as a program on how to maintain a healthy diet and keep up a regular exercise regimen. Since many of our clients have not had regular access to health care in the past, by the time they come to us, their health has deteriorated, and they have developed other complications. We do all we can to help but we are also working on prevention.

Working at Al-Shifa has taught me how to connect with people and how to handle challenging tasks. Al-Shifa has deepened my commitment to providing medical care for everyone, regardless of ability to pay. No one should be denied this precious service, and I am honored to serve this community.

This essay is part of a Zocalo Public Square inquiry on the health of neighborhoods, produced in conjunction with the California Wellness Foundation’s Advancing Wellness Poll.

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Before You Go

Evolution Of Trump's Muslim Ban
December 7, 2015(01 of 13)
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Donald Trump calls for a "complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the U.S. in a statement emailed to reporters. A press release announcing the proposal is simultaneously published to his website -- where it remains to this day. (credit: SCOTT OLSON)
January 4, 2016(02 of 13)
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The Trump campaign releases a video ad called "Great Again TV Spot" that doubles down on his proposed Muslim ban, but now it includes the word "temporary." (credit: YouTube)
March 30, 2016(03 of 13)
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During a Wisconsin town hall with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, Trump suggests the Muslim ban might have some "exceptions" -- including for his "rich" Muslim friends. (credit: MSNBC via Getty Images)
May 11, 2016(04 of 13)
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In a conversation with Fox News Radio’s Brian Kilmeade, Trump says his call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States was “just a suggestion.”

“We have a serious problem, and it’s a temporary ban — it hasn’t been called for yet, nobody’s done it, this is just a suggestion until we find out what’s going on,” Trump says.
(credit: MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images)
June 13, 2016(05 of 13)
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Trump ramps up his proposal following the Orlando shooting and dares Congress to get in his way. But the wording of the ban has already shifted.

“I will suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we fully understand how to end these threats," Trump tells a small audience at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire.
June 25, 2016(06 of 13)
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During a trip to the UK, Trump responds to a question about Muslims immigrating to the U.S. from Scotland and he responds, "It wouldn't bother me." Later that day he tells CNN’s Jeremy Diamond he only wanted to focus on “people coming from the terror states.” (credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images)
July 21, 2016(07 of 13)
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During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump says, “We must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place." (credit: Bill Clark via Getty Images)
July 24, 2016(08 of 13)
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Some question whether his comments at the Republican National Convention indicated a rollback of his initial proposal to enact "a complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the U.S., but he says no. “In fact, you could say it’s an expansion," he tells NBC's Chuck Todd. He continues to say he would target nations "compromised by terrorism," and hints this could apply to countries like France and Germany. (credit: The Washington Post via Getty Images)
August 8, 2016(09 of 13)
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Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence suggests Trump's "Muslim ban" might apply to Christians, Jews and people of other faiths. Speaking with conservative radio host Charlie Sykes, Pence echoes Trump's proposal to "temporarily suspend immigration from countries that have been compromised by terrorism." When Sykes asks whether the ban would apply to Christians, Jews and others from “compromised” countries, as well as Muslims, Pence suggests that would be the case. (credit: DARREN HAUCK)
August 15, 2016(10 of 13)
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During a campaign event at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio, Trump calls once again for "extreme vetting" of people trying to immigrate to or visit the United States, and he adds a proposal to use an ideological screening test to weed out those who don't "share our values and respect our people." (credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images)
September 14, 2016(11 of 13)
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Despite repeatedly calling for "extreme vetting" of Muslims trying to enter the country, Trump essentially admits during a campaign rally in Canton, Ohio that such vetting might not even work.

"We don't know where these people come from," he tells the crowd while discussing Syrian refugees. "We don't know if they have love or hate in their heart, and there's no way to tell."
(credit: Jeff Swensen via Getty Images)
October 6, 2016(12 of 13)
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In interviews with CNN’s “New Day” and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe," Pence responds to questions about his running mate's proposed Muslim ban saying “of course” Trump no longer wants to ban all Muslims from the country. CNN’s Chris Cuomo presses him on why he no longer condemns Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from the country, and Pence responds, "Well, because it’s not Donald Trump’s position now." (credit: CHIP SOMODEVILLA)
October 9, 2016(13 of 13)
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In response to a question during the second presidential debate, Trump says his proposed Muslim ban has "morphed into [an] extreme vetting from certain areas of the world." When ABC News' Martha Raddatz presses him to say whether the ban is still his position -- and if not, why -- he repeats that his proposal is now for "extreme vetting." (credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images)
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