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St. Elizabeth Physician Brings Healthcare to Syrian Refugees

March 17, 2014

Dr. Naseem Paruk

Dr. Naseem Paruk, a third-year resident in the St. Elizabeth Family Medicine Residency Program, considers himself to be a citizen of the world. “People are the same, no matter where you go,” he said in an interview in early March. “They have different food, different cultures and different ways of doing things, but everyone is the same at heart.” This attitude, born of a lifetime traveling the globe, was reinforced by his recent trip to Jordan as part of a medical mission team in aid of Syrian refugees.

Dr. Paruk traveled with a team of doctors from an array of specialties on a medical-humanitarian mission sponsored by Salaam Cultural Museum (SCM), a non-profit organization based in Seattle, Washington. The doctors from the US worked with a group of physicians from Jordan and Syria to bring healthcare services to displaced people—mostly women and children—living in refugee camps throughout Jordan. Over the course of a week, the team treated approximately 1,700 people in state-sponsored camps in urban areas and in settlements established independently on empty stretches of farmland.

Dr. Paruk and his colleagues saw patients with many different ailments, from viral upper respiratory infections, fungal infections, urinary tract infections and pinworms to chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and depression. People suffering from severe wounds and other trauma were cared for by a separate team of surgeons. Providing medical care to the residents in the refugee camps reminded Dr. Paruk how important his work can be. The medical mission team was able to address general healthcare concerns, but many patients had more complex conditions that hadn’t been treated since they left their home country. “They came with very specific [health management issues] that their own doctors dealt with before and we tried to bridge that gap, but it wasn’t the same,” Dr. Paruk said. “They really missed the continuity of care that they had with their primary care doctors.”

In addition to health problems, many people were lacking basic necessities. Most people had fled their homes with only a few belongings and the clothes on their backs. In the November and December snow, many people were without warm clothing, coats or proper footwear. “It was cold outside. They didn’t have socks, some of them were just wearing sandals,” Dr. Paruk said. At times, the problems faced by the Syrian refugees felt overwhelming. “I don’t have a magic wand; I can’t just solve everybody’s problems at once. That’s something I have to live with,” Dr. Paruk said. “My role there was very limited. It’s something, but it’s a drop in a big, big ocean…it’s just something to show them that not everyone has forgotten them.”

Even in such a difficult place, enduring unimaginable circumstances, the people in the refugee camps were determined to carry on with their lives. The children’s eyes were full of hope and the adults worked in whatever ways they could to provide for their families, never losing their pride and dignity. In the urban refugee camps, children went to schools sponsored by the Jordanian Women’s Union and women had the opportunity to learn skills that they could use to earn money for their families. During their visit, some members of the team snapped Polaroids of the children in the camps, giving them the first glimpse that they had seen of their own faces in weeks or even months. “It was something that brought instant smiles to their faces,” Dr. Paruk grinned as he remembered.

Dr. Paruk wanted to participate in SCM’s medical mission because he has seen, first-hand, the value that doctors can provide to low-resource populations. “The faculty and staff here at St. E’s have done an incredible job of preparing us, mentoring us, giving us guidance on how to treat people,” he said, “everything I learned here, I took it there.” As part of his training at SEMC, he has worked with people from many different cultural backgrounds at the Sister Rose Vincent Family Medicine Center. He would like to continue traveling to under served areas, providing care there, and sharing his experiences with others as he proceeds with his career. “If we want humanity to progress,” he said, “we all need to put in a little effort.”

Dr. Naseem Paruk
Photos by Rihab Allaf
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