This September, staff at the Florence Project partnered with doctors at Banner Health UMC to train clinicians on how to do pro-bono medical and psychological evaluations for asylum seekers.

“All of our clients could benefit from this service,” says Katie Ruhl, Pro Bono Mentor at the Florence Project. “If it weren’t for a lack of resources.”

Indeed, Florence Project attorneys are constantly looking for medical experts to evaluate our clients. Due to the high demand and the specific training required for these evaluations, we rarely encounter them.

For two years, Samantha Varner, an OB/GYN at Banner UMC, has been offering pro bono medical evaluations to asylum seekers. “I started asking, who else do you have?” Samantha recalls. “There are good people in the community doing this work, but, even together, we are few.”

Having identified a major need in our community, Samantha set out to create a network of clinicians and attorneys who could collaborate to provide asylum seekers with the necessary evaluations. Samantha, Katie Ruhl, and other collaborators at the University of Arizona planned a day-long workshop to educate and train clinicians to perform and document medical forensic evaluations. The training included overviews on asylum law and medical and psychological evaluations, as well as practice case review sessions. The day concluded with a lecture on the next steps and plans for the future of this new medical-legal network. Presenters included experts from various local legal clinics, UA College of Medicine, and UA College of Law.

About sixty local clinicians participated in the training.

“It was a tremendous success,” Samantha says. “We’ve found an awesome group of people, and now we need to support them to go out on their own… Any advanced practice [medical provider] should be able to a psychological evaluation. It’s a matter of making people feel confident to do that.”

As Samantha sees it, the next step is for clinicians to go out and do the evaluations. Samantha foresees a mentorship program, where experienced evaluators and new network participants team up to offer evaluations. Furthermore, the training has established a peer network through which clinicians participating in this movement can support one another.

Moving forward, the network plans to hold additional trainings for clinicians in the community.

“We are planning workshops on interpreting for the unique context of medical/psychological evaluation, on cultural competency for clinicians and interpreters, on giving a testimony in court,” says Katie. “We want a sustainable infrastructure for a statewide network. It’s a work in progress,” she adds.

It is a work in progress, and it is one that we hope more community members will join. We celebrate the collaboration between dedicated experts from FIRRP, Banner UMC, and other community organizations who contributed their time and wisdom to our emerging project. Join us! If you are a clinician, learn more at arizonaasylumnetwork.org or email azasylumnetwork@gmail.com.