Her passion is infectious – whether she is speaking at the Women’s March, at the Peoria City/County Health Department, with obstetrics residents at UnityPoint Health, with her patients or with newborn babies.
For Dr. Rahmat O. Na’Allah, access to health care is a basic human right and all women have a basic human right to reproductive health care.
That focus is part of the reason the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians named Na’Allah the 2017 Illinois Family Physician of the Year.
“It is not easy for anyone to make as big an impact as she has,” said Dr. Asim Jaffer, president of the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians and a Peoria colleague with Na’Allah. “It is even more impressive that she does it as a female, minority, immigrant, Muslim in central Illinois. She is truly a great role model and exemplifies the fact that community medicine is such an important part of what makes family physicians so integral in the health care of our country.”
Third-year resident Dr. John-Scott Carroll said, “She is one of the most passionate physicians I’ve ever met. She talks with her patients in a way they understand, and they feel motivated.”
During rounds recently on the labor and delivery floor at UnityPoint Health, Na’Allah and Carroll conferred about a patient who had a female circumcision, a very painful cultural tradition in some countries that is intended to insure women feel no pleasure from sexual intercourse. The patient and her husband wanted help. Na’Allah indicated she will conduct an examination and determine if there is anything the physicians can do to help the young couple.
The two doctors continued rounds stopping to see an infant born nine hours earlier and one born 24-hours earlier. Both mothers spoke easily and comfortably with Na’Allah about contraception moving forward.
Both new mothers knew about hormonal birth control pills, but they were not aware of I.U.D.s that can last 3 years, 5 years and 10 years and be removed anytime the patient wants to become pregnant. Na’Allah said the I.U.D.s are more than 99 percent effective.
“That is one of the great advantages we have as family physicians. We see our patients (for many years) and can discuss long-term care. Our patients can speak comfortably with us about personal issues,” Na’Allah said.
But even family physicians have to look for red flags when discussions don’t seem right.
“If the husband or boyfriend is always there, and we are never alone with the patient, what does that mean?” Na’Allah asked, indicating it might be a sign of abuse in the relationship.
Na’Allah is the supervising physician with resident fellows staffing the Heartland Healthcare Clinic at Carver Center, 710 W. 3rd St., from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays. She and her physicians are able to speak with patients about the complete array of reproductive health care options, something not available at some other community healthcare clinics.
Na’Allah is on the faculty at University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria. She was the first family physician in Peoria credentialed to perform c-sections. She’s director of the OB fellowship program at UICOMP and is focused on insuring access to family physicians who can deliver babies in rural and underserved communities where an obstetrician could be miles away.
Her goal is serving all patients but especially those in underserved populations, she said, noting “it is a privilege to serve them. Some people did not appreciate the Affordable Care Act until they understood losing it meant losing healthcare for a daughter or a father. We need healthcare for everyone.”
Na’Allah is an advocate for comprehensive sex education and said research confirms abstinence-only sex ed does not prevent unwanted pregnancies and STDs.
She spends time counseling her patients on their comprehensive contraceptive options because she knows access to contraception decreases the risk of unwanted pregnancies.
“I took an oath to support and provide care for my patients regardless of my personal or religious beliefs,” she said. “A woman’s decision to obtain an abortion is her right and her decision.”
If a provider chooses not to perform elective abortions, that provider should refer their patients to other health care professionals who will, she said.
Na’Allah believes all children should be vaccinated against the human papilloma virus. When a parent or grandparent insists their daughter or granddaughter will not have pre-marital sex, Na’Allah said that may be true but the young woman is at risk when she marries if her husband was exposed prior to their marriage. About 75 percent of college students have had HPV at some time.
Only Virginia, the District of Columbia and Rhode Island mandate the HPV vaccine for school attendance.
“Some people are afraid of vaccines. But refusing to vaccinate some children puts all other children at risk,” she said. “Their ‘right’ to refuse violates the rights of other children to go to school and be healthy.”
The focus of public health care should not just be at the terminal point of cancer, but good health care throughout life, she said.
“We need to provide regular colonoscopy and treat a little polyp before it becomes serious,” she said. “How often I say ‘I wish I had the opportunity to see you sooner. We could have helped you.’”
Na’Allah works with in-school healthcare clinics at Peoria Public Schools.
Jaffer said, “She participates in the “ask a doc” sessions. She gets out and talks with at risk students. That’s key. She tells them they have to make smart decisions. She breaks down the barriers and the fear of communicating with a doctor.”
Peoria has some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country and some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STDs.
“This is the United States of America not some poor country that tries to suppress women’s access to contraception. If unwanted pregnancies can be prevented with contraception, there is no need for abortion,” Na’Allah said. “The Taliban suppresses women.”
Na’Allah’s husband, Abdul-Rasheed, is a professor, at Western Illinois University in Macomb. They have four daughters.
Na’Allah was born in Nigeria. Her middle name is Olohuntoyn which translates to “God is worthy of praise.”
Her mother had a long, arduous labor.
“My mother said I was huge. Over 9 pounds,” Na’Allah said. “When I was born, my mother exclaimed ‘Thanks be to God for getting her out of me!’”