The woman, a refugee from Democratic Republic of the Congo, said her eyes itched, so providers at the Refugee Health Initiative clinic in Fort Worth sent her home with drops to solve the problem. 

The next clinic, she returned with the same complaint. 

“Did you use the drops?” second-year medical student Stephanie Elbanna asked her. 

“I don’t know how to open it,” the woman said.

Elbanna, who attends the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at The University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, walked her through the process. 

Elbanna is adept at teachbacks — a method educators use to check for understanding, as well as helping refugees navigate a new world where languages, customs and everyday staples like the ingredients for simple syrup aren’t the same. 

She is also president of the Refugee Health Initiative, a volunteer group of students and faculty that holds multiple free medical clinics for refugees and asylum seekers every month. The group’s first clinic of the year takes place on Jan. 7. The second clinic takes place Jan. 21. 

Anyone is welcome, she said. No documentation required.

If you go:

What: Free acute care clinic for refugees and asylum seekers. No documentation required.

When
9 a.m. – noon
Saturday, Jan. 7

Where
Monarch Pass Apartments
4500 Campus Drive, Fort Worth, TX 76119

For more information, send Refugee Health Initiative a direct message through Facebook or Instagram.

Although the clinics prioritize acute care — offering services like physicals, ultrasounds and flu vaccines — their central purpose is to connect the country’s newcomers to ongoing care amid money and language issues.

“We have the ability to help them overcome those barriers, so that they can have equal opportunity to thrive,” Elbanna said. “The only way we do that is if we hold on to them. And we see through that very long process.”

Last year, for example, a man who’d only just arrived from Afghanistan attended the clinic. Elbanna, who lived in a refugee camp in Syria as a child, greeted him with a common Muslim welcome: As-salaam alaikum, or “peace be upon you” in Arabic. 

“That was the opening,” Elbanna said. “You know, that was his way of seeing that, ‘I’m safe here.’”

The man would return, again and again, to subsequent clinics, and as he felt comfortable sharing his needs — he had no car, insurance or job — Elbanna and her colleagues were able to connect him with resources. These days, he has all three. 

“It’s this long journey,” she said. “Many, many meetings, him coming to the clinic, me calling him and saying, ‘Hey, we have clinic today. Do you want to stop by?’ Yeah, that continuity of care.”

The Initiative comprises more than 100 medical students and faculty from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. At least one licensed provider supervises each clinic, along with 10-12 medical students like Elbanna. On average, about 10-15 patients show up, she said. 

Refugee Health Initiative volunteers from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine hold regular, free health clinics for refugees and asylum seekers in Fort Worth. Second-year medical student Stephanie Elbanna, center in red scrubs, is the group’s president. (Courtesy photo | Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine)

Elbanna hopes to expand the services the Initiative can offer at the clinic. For one, the team regularly needs interpreters, she said: People who speak Pashtu, Dari, any Sino-Tibetan languages, Arabic and Swahili. 

She’s also hoping to fund a permanent ultrasound for the clinic. Right now, a physician brings her personal machine when she supervises. And, Elbanna is looking for more community partnerships. For example, the Initiative already works closely with JPS Health Network, World Relief North Texas, DASH Network and Cornerstone Assistance Network.

More globally, she’s hopeful people in Fort Worth look for shared humanity in one another. 

“Don’t think of the refugees and don’t think of the situation as something outside of your world,” she said. “We’re all existing together. The help that we do for them will come back and help everyone else as well.”

Once, a Syrian family told her they missed orange blossom water, an ingredient she said people use across the Middle East in tea, coffee and simple syrup for desserts. 

Elbanna drove to Halal Import Food Market in Arlington, purchased the water and brought it to the family. 

“People need it,” she said, “to feel like they’re at home.”

Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her at alexis.allison@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Alexis AllisonHealth Reporter

Alexis Allison covers health for the Fort Worth Report. When she can, she'll slip in an illustration or two. Allison is a former high school English teacher and hopes her journalism is likewise educational....