Baylor medical students successfully launched the Baylor College of Medicine Human Rights and Asylum Clinic on July 20 to help meet a growing need in the Houston area.
The students belong to Physicians for Human Rights at Baylor College of Medicine (PHR-BCM), a student chapter of the national organization that facilitates a network of health professionals and clinics to provide evaluations for asylum seekers. Through referrals from PHR, the Baylor student-run clinic provides free forensic evaluations for individuals seeking asylum in the United States. The clients are from all around the globe, with recent cases from Honduras, El Salvador and Ethiopia.
“There is a large need for these evaluations in Houston,” said Gary Liu, co-director of clinical operations and third-year medical student at Baylor. “We’re such a diverse city, and various people were approaching our physicians for this. We’re able to serve different populations within Houston itself.”
These human rights clinics do not mirror a traditional hospital or outpatient setting and do not provide treatment; the focus is only on completing a forensic evaluation for those going through the asylum process. Asylum seekers are first paired with lawyers who document their traumatic experiences, then connected by PHR’s national team with a clinician to conduct an evaluation of the evidence of trauma, either physical, psychological, or both. The evaluation is prepared as an affidavit and included as part of a legal document that is presented to a judge who determines if a person is granted asylum. Medical students play a major role in the evaluation process by acting as scribes during the assessment and, after the encounter, helping the clinician draft the affidavit.
“When you encounter these stories, it’s quite heartbreaking,” Liu said. “We’re just doing our best in terms of providing a thorough evaluation that can be of great benefit in their asylum case.”
Students also promote PHR and help recruit their peers into the organization. In March, they hosted a Baylor-PHR joint forensic evaluation training, where Baylor faculty and trainees as well as mental health professionals from across the Houston area learned how to conduct mental and physical health forensic evaluations.
“We hope to have human rights workshop discussions and different events where people can discuss the role of the physician as an advocate outside of the clinic,” said Sally Huang, executive director of PHR-BCM and fourth-year medical student at Baylor.
Most clients are not connected to medical and mental healthcare, so the outreach coordinators provide referrals to mental health services and resources to set them up with a primary care provider.
“Dr. Banu, Dr. Fredricks and Dr. Stolar spent a lot of time setting up the asylum clinic, and we are thankful to be able to benefit from the work faculty has already done in addressing the logistical and legal aspects of the clinic,” Huang said.
Students and clinicians perform thorough evaluations monthly at the Alliance, a Houston nonprofit organization. Evaluations take three to four hours to conduct. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHR-BCM Student Executive Board:
Sally Huang – Executive Director
Kaitlyn Carlson – Co-Executive Director
Brian Donley – Co-Director of Clinical Operations
Gary Liu – Co-Director of Clinical Operations
Connor Hoch – Co-Director of Organizational Operations
Erica Ding – Co-Director of Organizational Operations
Preeya Bhavsar – Co-Director of Outreach
Faheem Bilal – Co-Director of Outreach
Dr. Andrea Stolar – Medical Director
Dr. Sophia Banu – Medical Director and Faculty Advisor
Dr. Karla Fredricks – Medical Director and Faculty Advisor
-By Homa Shalchi