1. You have a very diverse background – from Clemson to the Peace Core and then MUSC. Tell me a little bit about your journey and what led you here?
I graduated from Clemson University in 2013 with a degree in Biology. I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. But I knew I wanted to give back and serve others, along with a bit of adventure, before I started on a career path. I enrolled in the Master of Science in Environmental Studies program at the College of Charleston which combines a year of classes with the potential to participate in the Peace Corps. I was assigned to Sierra Leone for Peace Corps service, which is a unique experience in that you’re spending two years working with a rural community at a grassroots level, integrating into the culture and learning the local language.
After I finished my Peace Corps service in 2017, I flew to the Middle East where I volunteered at a camp in Iraq for Yezidi refugees before returning to Charleston. Before starting medical school, my travel itch got the better of me and I traveled to Lebanon to teach and develop a curriculum in a camp for Syrian refugees.
2. What sparked your interest in refugee health care?
We’re living in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis of our lifetime—over 65 million people in the world today have had to flee from their homes due to violence. The opportunities I’ve had to work alongside refugees and displaced populations in the Middle East and now in America has made this crisis personal. Part of the motivation in starting this asylum chapter is to make this crisis personal to more students who may not have had the same opportunities I did. My hope is that every student and faculty member that volunteers at the clinic will become forceful advocates for refugee and asylum-seeking communities.
3. You started the MUSC Student Chapter of Physician for Human Rights (PHR)– a non- governmental organization which trains physicians, residents, and medical students to work together to evaluate asylum seekers and submit affidavits supporting their request for asylum. What motivated you to get involved with PHR?
South Carolina has a significant population of asylum seekers with more than 5,000 currently living in the state. Most of these asylum-seekers are fleeing abuse such as gang violence, domestic violence, or police violence in their home countries. Medical documentary evidence of this abuse can be one of the greatest factors in being granted asylum.
Given this, I decided to start the MUSC Student Chapter of PHR. Using their training model, we opened a student-run pro-bono asylum clinic where physicians and mental health professionals perform forensic psychological and physical evaluations of asylum-seekers to serve in court as documented evidence of the abuse they’ve suffered in their home countries. Students are able to help assist clinicians and take notes throughout the evaluation. Afterwards, clinicians and students collaborate to produce an affidavit that attorneys can use in court to support their client's claim for asylum. Students or clinicians interested in joining the chapter can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. You are also part of the Global Health Flex Track program – What are your thoughts on medical schools incorporating global health into the curriculum?
It’s great that the College of Medicine developed this track to teach students the skills and knowledge they will need to become leaders in global health. We are part of a larger global community, and it’s imperative that students learn more about health inequities abroad and here in the United States.
5. Can you talk about one person at MUSC who has made an impact on you?
I would have to say Dr. Sean Haley. He’s a great mentor, and someone I aspire to be like. Dr. Haley started an NGO for refugees in Syracuse, New York while he was in medical school. It was exciting to find a faculty member that shared the same passion, and it’s been really inspiring to learn about the work he did as a student. He’s dedicated a great amount of time to volunteering at the clinic and he cares deeply about vulnerable populations in our state.
6. Any thoughts, advice, or words of wisdom for current MUSC students who are interested in global health?
One of the great things about MUSC is exposure to a diverse faculty with a huge array of interests and passions. If you have an idea for a project, find faculty that share your passion and create that opportunity for yourself and other students. Also, find something that will give you a reason to hit the books. Medical school is hard, and sometimes it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The asylum clinic reminds me why I’m here and gives me that extra bit of motivation to study. So, find your ‘asylum clinic’.