Paradigm ‘Shifa’

Health clinic run by pre-medical collegiate students intends to function through preventative methods.

UC Irvine students who seek to join the medical field now have a variety of opportunities available for them in the form of the Shifa Student-Run Free Clinic, an organization made up of undergraduates, medical students and doctors who provide free medical services in mobile clinics located in low-income areas. UC Irvine’s Shifa organization targets areas in Orange County, including Garden Grove, Anaheim, Santa Ana and La Mirada.

“Our members get to see firsthand what goes on in a clinic,” Pritha Dewanjee, a third-year biological sciences major and newly designated co-president of Shifa for the 2013-14 year, said. “They are able to shadow medical students and doctors, who provide their services for free.”

Sarwat Siddiqi, also a biological sciences major, says that as students get experience, the patients are able to also gain something, even though Shifa members are not professional doctors.

“One of the great things about the health clinics is that it is focused on prevention,” Siddiqui said, “When you look at the health care system, it is much easier to tackle a problem before it happens.”

“Even though we might not be medical services, we can offer something that will help them in the long run.”

When the New University first profiled Shifa in 2011, the organization faced the challenge of acquiring funds and finding a location to set up a permanent clinic to provide their services, which include free screenings, education and prevention as well as referrals and follow-ups. In the spring of 2013, members of Shifa continue towards that goal while at the same time managing many more members.

“This past fall quarter, we had around 40-50 people join,” Dewanjee said.

Next year’s co-president Nathan Tang, a second-year biological sciences major who joined Shifa last spring, said that there were only around 15 members when he came in.

“Where I see, and how I see the clinic can grow, is having more support and funding from the university,” Tang said. “Another place where we can grow is getting officially affiliated with UC Irvine itself, and we need a faculty advisor to do that.

“I love Shifa, and I’ve learned a lot, not only as far as what goes on in a clinic, but what connections you have to make. You have to communicate with third parties, receive funding from not only fundraisers but also outside donators. It’s really difficult, but as a leader I think it has made me a better person.”

In moving on to next year, Tang said he hopes to see not only more members, but a more diverse group of members join an organization that has already seen a large jump this past year.

“I think the majority of our members are pre-medical, but if we can get a group of dentists, pharmacists, optometrists and all the other health specialties, we may be able to attract more students,” he said.

“We made a jump from 15 to 70 this year, but we did not make a jump in the duties for each member … and that is due to the expansion of our clinics not meeting the expansion of our members.”

Tang emphasized perhaps a reorganization of the duties of each member of Shifa, particularly the board members, to streamline duties and assign them efficiently.

One of the most important aspects that Shifa members emphasize is a multicultural approach to their work. As mobile clinics are based all over Orange County, students interact with patients from the Vietnamese, Spanish, and Arabic speaking communities. Both presidents claim that being culturally sensitive and removing any language barriers are extremely important.

“Being a multicultural clinic, one that caters to different cultures and religions and different demographic groups is very important,” Tang said. “We have to establish that trust and credibility.”

In Arabic, the term shifa means “healing.” The organization took the namesake as an acronym, standing for the Student Health Initiative For All. Dewanjee focused on the “initiative” aspect, that Shifa itself is not an initiative, but is driven by the initiative of its member students to move the organization towards its ultimate goal of establishing a permanent clinic.

Shifa will be hosting a health fair on Saturday, May 4, and Dewanjee says it should be their biggest yet.

“Patient education is huge for us during these health fairs. We sit at a table with families and talk with them about their diet and exercise. We really want that interaction, and we take the initiative to get it.

“Even as undergraduates, we do what we can.”