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Katalin Roth, JD, MD

Position: Asylum Network Member
Affiliation: George Washington University Medical Center
 Katalin Roth, JD, MD

I graduated from Yale Law School in 1973 and from Yale School of Medicine in 1982. I have been working as a primary care internist and geriatrician at Medical Faculty Associates, The George Washington University Medical Center, since 1997. For nine years I served as program director of the primary care residency program, now I am director of our Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine. My work is a wonderful and crazy mix of outpatient and inpatient medicine, supervising medicine residents and geriatrics fellows, and teaching medical students. I came to medicine after a brief career as a lawyer and law teacher, and so issues of justice and human rights have concerned me throughout my career.

I have been a member of the Asylum Network since 1999. A psychiatrist colleague in the Asylum Network invited me to participate. For the last few years I have tried to do one medical evaluation per month. We have a “clinic” of interested doctors who see asylum seekers, and have held at least two trainings here at GW for students and physicians who are interested in becoming asylum volunteers. I can’t count the number of evaluations I have done — certainly in excess of 50 by now. Many residents who have worked with me have gone on to become Asylum Network volunteers.

My commitment to human rights goes way back to college activism (civil rights, anti-Vietnam and anti-poverty). My family background is Hungarian-Jewish, my parents survived the Holocaust, and I was born in Hungary after WWII, so issues of emigration and displacement have always engaged me. The ideal of bearing witness has always been important to me. Work with asylum seekers is a continual reminder of the terrible injustices that occur around the world. It gives me a deep appreciation of the openness of our society and the importance of a transparent and fair legal system.

This makes me sound terribly serious, but actually I have many interests and have lots of fun. I have been blessed with a wonderful family, a loving husband, and two terrific sons. I play tennis, love to cook, read lots, am a news junkie, and enjoy nature and art.

My first asylum client still comes to the free clinic where I volunteer. She was arrested, tortured, and raped in Cameroon because of her boyfriend’s politics, and over the years I have watched her transform from a frightened young woman who spoke no English into a happy and productive nurse’s aide. Of course there have been stories which were unbearably sad, and I have had bad dreams, but overall the rewards of the work have been huge.

Like so many of us, I am concerned about health and humanitarian problems all over the world, and this work is also a way for me to feel like I am making a small contribution to international aid as well.