Dr. Reshma Kahn is on a mission to spread goodness, kindness, mercy, and generosity for all
Staff and volunteers assist in the Shifa Clinic’s ongoing emergency relief efforts, delivering food to families in need during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Arabic word “shifa” means “curing” or “healing.” It’s an ambitious promise, especially to be hung on the door of a small, nondescript office in Mount Pleasant, but it’s one that Dr. Reshma Khan has made to thousands of patients since opening this free clinic eight years ago.
“The Shifa Clinic literally saved my life,” explains Augustus Smith, who couldn’t afford treatment for his severe diabetes, which had led to a toe amputation. “I was greeted with smiles and treated with care. Plain and simple, I am better. No longer hopeless but hopeful. No longer sick and suffering, but strong and able.”
When Dr. Khan established the clinic in 2012, she set out to provide ob-gyn services to underserved women. Humbled by her time at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, where she’d worked since arriving in Charleston with her husband and children in 2007, the gynecologist began to consider, “What if I did the same thing outside of the hospital without compensation? What I really want is the blessings of the people.” That dream intersected with a spiritual dive into the Qu’ran in order to teach her then-kindergarten-age son about Islam. “I tried to volunteer with several free clinics, but most offered primary care, not gynecological or prenatal care,” recalls the doctor. She knew the need for free women’s health care existed but couldn’t find an outlet for such community service. Dr. Khan pressed forward for three years before an encounter at an Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) conference dropped a sign in her path. It read, “We help set up free clinics.”
(Left) Delivering food; (Top right) Putting on protective gear; (Bottom right) Dr. Kahn at the 8th annual holiday.
“It took me 10 months to convince ICNA Relief USA that I was the right person for the job,” she recalls. Now, her clinic provides no-cost, multispecialty health care to uninsured people whose incomes fall below 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Eligible patients can schedule appointments Monday through Friday with a primary care physician, pediatrician, dermatologist, mental health professional, dentist, vision specialist, or ob-gyn. Last year, the clinic’s team of providers saw nearly 900 patients during more than 3,000 visits. A prenatal clinic provides comprehensive medical care during pregnancy, including physical examinations, vitamins, lab work, genetic screenings, and in-house ultrasounds. An onsite dispensary also supplies clients with prescription medications free of charge.
Wellness requires more than just a doctor’s guidance, though. “The clinic’s mission is to provide not only health care but a portal where we can come together to spread goodness, kindness, mercy, and generosity for all,” Dr. Khan says. So the Shifa Clinic also organizes multiple outreach efforts, including hunger prevention programs, a clothing closet, holiday giveaways, and a back-to-school supply drive, which is August 15. In 2019, the organization distributed some 239,000 pounds of groceries to 3,370 households; since the pandemic hit the Lowcountry in March, the organization has fed more than 5,300 families.
Founder Dr. Reshma Khan (center) with her team in her office
Now, the group’s biggest challenge is space. With only four exam rooms and one provider on site at a time, combined with current precautions against keeping waiting rooms full, the clinic isn’t able to reach as many patients as it could. “My dream is to secure enough funding to move into a bigger facility and double the number of people we serve,” says Dr. Khan, who has earned multiple accolades for her work, including Trident United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council Nonprofit Leader of the Year and YWCA of Greater Charleston’s #WhatWomenBring Award. She also serves as ICNA’s national director of health services. “This is my passion,” she explains. “I never envisioned that my efforts would be so multiplied.”