“This is a charitable clinic, but... we want it to look like any other clinic in the USA,” says Dr Rashid Chotani, executive director of the Muslim Community Center (MCC) Medical Clinic in Silver Springs, Maryland — close to the US capital, Washington DC.
Much like other clinics in the US, the MCC Medical Clinic is well equipped with state-of-the-art medical services, putting it at par with its counterparts. But it is also quite evidently entirely unique.
Out in the lobby, patients from diverse ethnic backgrounds are seated, speaking in different languages. Amidst them are patients who do not speak any English at all. Not only does MCC clinic make a clear effort not to discriminate, they go a step further. The clinic's staffers from around the world try to communicate with these patients in their native languages.
“We have a lot of people from the continent of Africa, we also have people who speak Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Spanish, French, you name it,” says a visibly proud Dr Chotani.
For Ms. Lori Indenbaum, a PA and internist, the clinic is a “medical home” and the diversity makes everyone feel welcome.
The most interesting thing about this clinic is that it is based in a mosque. Yet, 50 per cent of the patients here are from other faiths. “We serve the entire community, not the Muslim community alone,” Dr Chotani tells Dawn.
Dr Chotani speaks highly of how his colleague Dr Asif Qadri set up the clinic.
Fourteen years ago, Dr Qadri went to the MCC board of directors with the idea of opening a free clinic for those in the community who could not afford healthcare and did not have insurance to cover those costs.
Before he could even start it, many people began “advising” him that it would not work.
However, the board agreed and gave space within the centre for him to commence his work. In 2003, Dr Qadri officially opened the clinic. Initially it was run on a volunteer basis and opened only one day a week. In that entire year, the clinic saw 53 patients.
Today the clinic has evolved and grown, and is expected to see as many as 17,000 patients in one year. It’s open seven days a week, eight hours a day, and has expanded so much that it has doctors and facilities for all sorts of treatment any patient may need.
Dr Chotani stresses the need to give back to the community. Acting on this conviction, after attending medical school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he went back to Pakistan to help his father and some of his colleagues who had been part of an organisation called Kharadar General Hospital.
To further his education, he then travelled back to the US and joined the prestigious Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
Spending time around the world, he saw expat Pakistanis who had done really well for themselves, but were doing nothing to give back. “Pakistanis who are living across the globe, or even in Pakistan, have done really well financially. You go to their homes… you see their cars they have beautiful cars… but what have they done for the community and the country they are living in?” he asks.
Refusing to fall into the trap, Dr Chotani left his corporate position and joined the MCC clinic. He remembers thinking “somehow things will work out”. “I took this position to build this clinic so that we become a shining example. Now we are the largest faith-based multi-speciality safety net clinic in the USA... People have to come to the mosque to come and see us; they know it's a Muslim setup, they know there are Pakistanis who are running it, we don't have to say anything, we just need to provide care for them,” he adds.
“One of the things we have been doing since 9/11 is trying to build bridges and trying to create an environment where we are integrated, [while] at the same time keeping our roots and values alive. So in order for us to do that… we have to engage with the community,” he says.
These efforts of Dr Chotani were recognised in a big way last year. He made headlines when he was selected for the Nato “Scientific Achievement Award 2016”. Dr Chotani was specifically awarded for his role in researching medical countermeasures against biological agents.
“It was extremely interesting, rewarding and humbling experience because I never expected it to be honest,” says the honouree. “The timing was just perfect, everybody was talking about Muslims and Pakistanis being terrorists... Now this award is specifically given to someone who has done tremendous service in counterterrorism. So here was a Muslim, being awarded as a counter terrorist expert rather than a terrorist,” says Dr Chotani of shifting the narrative, adding, “it was really fantastic from all different perspectives.”
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the MCC Medical Clinic is located in Silver Springs, Maryland and not in Washington DC itself.