Rashid Chotani, MD, MPH ’96 and Maryland's Muslim Community Clinic
"I went to clinics and helped them to provide health care in countries where it wasn’t accessible or available to disenfranchised people. I never dreamed that I would be doing it in our nation.” Rashid Chotani, Executive Director of the Muslim Community Clinic with a patient and patient advocate.
“It’s like the United Nations,” Rashid Chotani jokes of the sunny, high-ceilinged waiting room of the Muslim Community Clinic which, on any given day, could seat patients from places like Kenya, New Guinea, Colombia or Egypt.
But this is Silver Spring, Maryland—a wealthy Washington, D.C. suburb—where Chotani, MD, MPH ’96, oversees a facility that serves a large Muslim population and others in the community who find health care hard to come by.
“These people have not been taken care of,” says Chotani, executive director of the nonprofit clinic that provides primary health care and specialized services to low-income and indigent adults, including many immigrants, representing a broad range of background and ethnicities.
Refugees account for five percent of the clinic’s patients, a population especially in need of care/services and one that Chotani hopes to reach out to, and about 40 percent of clinic patients are Muslims.
Affiliated with the neighboring Muslim Community Center, the nonprofit clinic was founded in 2003 by center member and physician Asif Qadri. It has grown from serving about 50 patients a year to a seven-days-a-week operation with an annual budget of nearly $2 million, including public and private funding, as well as zakat and sadaqa tithes from the center’s mosque.
For Chotani, who has a background coordinating medical services after earthquakes, tsunamis and other disasters, running the clinic is, in a sense, a return to his earlier work. The crisis now is lack of health care.
“Most often, new patients have not seen a physician for a very long time,” he says, noting that many are 40-50 years old with multiple health complications from diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “Preventive medicine was not part of the equation. That’s what we provide here.”
Chotani, who emigrated to the U.S. as a child from Pakistan and earned his MPH at the School in 1996, first witnessed the consequences of inaccessible or non-existent health care in his work with the Johns Hopkins Center for International Emergency, Disaster and Refugee Studies, (CIEDRS), a joint program of the Bloomberg School and the School of Medicine.
On a moment’s notice, he could be traveling halfway around the world to set up emergency health care clinics in disaster settings. Later, in his career, he helped to establish health infectious disease surveillance programs in developing countries. A 2012 book, authored by Chotani and colleagues, Medical Countermeasures Against Biological Agents, earned the researchers a NATO Scientific Achievement Award in 2016.
In recent years, after settling in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. with his wife and children, Chotani avoided disaster zones and did international consulting work in crisis response before joining the clinic in 2016.
“I was helping to provide health care in those countries where it wasn’t accessible or available to the people that were disenfranchised,” he recalls. “I never dreamed that I would be doing it in our nation.”
Recently, the clinic has faced a different kind of crisis: It was one of two Muslim entities in Maryland that received death threats in February.
Chotani remains undeterred.
“There’s a lot of negative rhetoric about Muslims,” he says. “[The clinic] is a tangible product that is serving the community. When someone tells me that Muslims are not contributing to this nation, I can say ‘hey, come over here and check it out!’”
With Chotani at the helm, the clinic is poised for further strategic growth. He hopes to expand into an urgent care center, and his long-term vision is to become a community hospital.
“We as communities need to rise and build these institutions that can provide health care to our neighbors,” he says.
- Lindsay Smith Rogers and Jackie Powder