Dr. Reshma Khan, who operates a free medical clinic that serves low-income and uninsured women, is one of 10 women being recognized this month by the YWCA of Greater Charleston during its What Women Bring event May 9.
By Shelley Hill Young
Soon after Reshma Khan moved to Charleston, she reluctantly accepted a job as a gynecologist at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. It wasn’t exactly what she was looking for.
Her patients were different from those she had at her private practice in Maryland. Many were poor and had faced adversities. They needed a lot of care, and she felt a deep connection to them.
“It made me realize this is why I’m a doctor,” she says. “This is my purpose in life.”
During the same time, Reshma, who was born and raised in India, started studying the Quran to deepen her understanding of Islam so she could teach her young son. She began to think about opening up a free medical clinic to offer the same care to any low-income woman, not just those in the military.
“My major thing was I want to give without return,” she says.
She immediately hit hurdles. At first, she wanted to start volunteering at a clinic, but the existing free clinics all provided primary care, not gynecology. And she didn’t want to put in her volunteer time and go home without making an impact.
“I wanted it to where I’m actually making a difference in people’s lives,” she says.
When she talked about opening a free medical clinic, people told her she was crazy and she wouldn’t be able to do it.
“No one was interested,” she says. “It’s a big undertaking. There are so many hows, so many hows. … I went through a lot of failures, a lot of nos, a lot of disappointment.”
She did meet with a woman who worked for the S.C. Free Clinic Association, who offered her encouragement to continue to pursue her dream.
Then she went to an Islamic Circle of North America conference on the Quran in Atlanta. It was part of her ongoing effort to deepen her understanding of religion and teach her children. While there, she saw a small sign that said: “We help set up free clinics.” Reshma says her husband asked her whether she was really going to ask about her plans. “I said, ‘Another no is not going to break me.’”
At first, she says, the Islamic Circle of North America also was hesitant to take a chance on Reshma. But she was persistent. And then, almost a year later, she got a call from the executive director. He told her, “What you need to start this project is within you. … You just have to keep your intentions lean and clear, and the rest will come.”
“That was so empowering for me,” she says. “He said, ‘I trust you. I believe in you.’”
Not long afterward, Reshma and her husband made the once-in-a-lifetime hajj to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. When they arrived at the Great Mosque of Mecca, she says she started crying and told God: “This is my work for you.” “If you accept my work,” she said, “please make this place a source of blessing for everyone who walks in this door.”
Her mission was no longer just about health care, she says. It was about spreading peace, love, mercy, compassion and unity.
Since the Shifa Clinic opened its doors in Mount Pleasant in 2012 providing gynecological care to low-income and uninsured women for four hours each Saturday, it has expanded to become a full-time multispeciality clinic that offers community outreach, including a food pantry and a turkey giveaway for Thanksgiving.
With all the work she has put into opening and operating the clinic, you might expect Reshma to be exhausted. But she is calm, self-assured and radiant. She says she does not find it tiring. “This is my place of renewal.”
“I have such a strong, strong faith in God,” she says. “Something might be impossible for me, but nothing is impossible for him.”