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These Pakistani-American doctors are ushering change in the US and Pakistan

Updated Apr 29, 2017 11:32am


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Entering the spring meeting of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) is a bit like walking into a desi wedding in the middle of Philadelphia.

All dressed up for a formal dinner event being hosted by APPNA. ─ Photo by Hussain Afzal
All dressed up for a formal dinner event being hosted by APPNA. ─ Photo by Hussain Afzal

A line of models accompanied by a loud man in a shiny gold shirt rushes by. A clothing rack of designer wear follows, as the women prep for a fashion show that will take place later that night.

Noisy children running around and creating a ruckus are admonished briefly by their mothers, who then continue chattering excitedly with each other.

Men clad in sherwanis and suits are walking in and out of meeting rooms, coordinating with each other for the event, and a television crew is setting up for a video interview with APPNA members.

A bazaar for Pakistan clothes and jewellery, a lassi stand and a rural scene where a lady sits dressed like a villager but texting away on her cellphone, are among the sights at the APPNA convention.

APPNA, a not-for-profit organisation established in 1977, is one of the largest organised bodies of Pakistani-American medical professionals in the United States (US) and Canada.

Jewellery being sold at the APPNA bazaar. ─ Photo by Hussain Afzal
Jewellery being sold at the APPNA bazaar. ─ Photo by Hussain Afzal

A woman at the APPNA bazaar. ─ Photo by Hussain Afzal
A woman at the APPNA bazaar. ─ Photo by Hussain Afzal

The body seeks to work with the Pakistani-American community in the US for civic engagement and image building of the Pakistani community among fellow citizens, along with community service projects in Pakistan and other parts of the world. APPNA also plays a special role supporting physicians from Pakistan who go to the US to further their studies or find work.

APPNA President Dr Sajid Chaudhary terms it the third largest medical association in the US, after the American Medical Association and the Association of Physicians of India (API), with over 3,000-3,500 members.

The organisation holds three quarterly meetings in the spring, fall and winter, and an annual convention in summer which is attended by around 4,000-5,000 people of Pakistani descent, according to Dr Babar Cheema, chairman of the body's civic engagement committee.

APPNA meetings, however, are not just a forum for discussion on the organisation's activities.

"They have also become a centre for socialisation," Dr Cheema says, where people can "recharge their desi battery".

Camera: Hussain Afzal; Edit: Kamran Nafees

Before APPNA existed, an alumni association from Lahore's King Edward Medical University ─ one of the oldest medical institutes in Pakistan ─ had been established for medical professionals.

However, when doctors from other medical schools began coming to the US, "they decided that they should have a bigger umbrella organisation," Dr Chaudhary says.

Serving their two homes: Pakistan and the United States

Adhoc Alumni Scholarship Committee 2017 (left to right) Dr Saeed Khan, Dr Mubasher Rana, Dr Aisha Zafar, Dr Ghulam Qadir, Dr Masood Akbar. — Photo courtesy APPNA
Adhoc Alumni Scholarship Committee 2017 (left to right) Dr Saeed Khan, Dr Mubasher Rana, Dr Aisha Zafar, Dr Ghulam Qadir, Dr Masood Akbar. — Photo courtesy APPNA

This organisation has adopted what Dr Chaudhary describes as a "two-pronged strategy". Through alumni groups, APPNA focuses on projects in Pakistan, and through its local chapters also works with US-based communities.

The organisation also plays a big role in supporting Pakistani physicians who wish to go to the US for further education or work. They support them by providing mentorship lectures and programmes, seminars, scholarships and financial support. They also run 'APPNA Houses' that provide Pakistan med students with a place to live at subsidised rates.

“When I moved to the US [in 1996] we did not have any arrangements like this. We were on our own. At least now when young physicians come from Pakistan, they know where they’re going to be staying and have good support structures,” Dr Cheema says.

In addition to initiatives to support Pakistani physicians, APPNA also engages in disaster relief work in the country.

Dr Aisha Zafar, chair of APPNA's social welfare and disaster relief committee, says the body has been involved in relief efforts in the aftermath of the massive earthquakes in Pakistan, Haiti, Indonesia and Nepal.

Residents of an 'APPNA House,' subsidised residence for young Pakistani physicians in the US. — Photo courtesy APPNA
Residents of an 'APPNA House,' subsidised residence for young Pakistani physicians in the US. — Photo courtesy APPNA

APPNA members are also encouraged to engage in community service in the US such as running food pantries, soup kitchens and free local clinics.

American physicians of Pakistani descent also provide primary and specialty care to Americans, especially in rural areas and inner cities in the US, where many US-born physicians prefer not to practice.

"We are hoping that we will push more people into this [community service]… so they can pay back to the US. Quite frankly, this is our adopted homeland. America has given us so much that we have no complaint. Even when we have President Trump and all the current rhetoric at this point, I have to admit I feel more comfortable being in America than being in my own land of birth, Pakistan," Dr Cheema says.

US Senator Bob Casey addresses participants at APPNA's spring meeting. ─ Photo by Hussain Afzal
US Senator Bob Casey addresses participants at APPNA's spring meeting. ─ Photo by Hussain Afzal

Persisting despite rising Islamophobia

However, Dr Chaudhary notes that the Pakistani community in the US has been "a little bit down" after the recent election amid a documented rise in Islamophobia.

"They have a fear of dire conditions, consequences, backlash, because of the recent change in the political scenario,” he says, emphasising the importance of reaching out to US lawmakers and lobbying for the rights of the desi community in America.

“We need to get involved with our local legislators, we need to raise our concerns," he says.

This active engagement at a local level is apparent even at the APPNA's spring meeting. US Senator Bob Casey is one of the speakers at the event. Valerie Biden Owens, a women's rights activist and sister of Former US Vice President Joe Biden, is a keynote speaker.

The physicians believe that such efforts are particularly important right now when fears of travel bans are still prevalent.

“This is a big concern for us because we have scholarships, we are supporting these students… [but] if the visas are not issued despite the fact that they have excellent scores, we will not be able to continue a programme like this,” Dr Zafar says.

“This is the first time, really, that I’ve sensed it. We had delays in terms of visa issues but it wasn’t to the extent where now there is a concern that you will not be hired or interviewed because you are of Pakistani background," she explains.

“We need to get out and tell American citizens, our fellow citizens, that we are a part of them and we want to work for them.”


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Comments (46) Closed

ROGUE Apr 29, 2017 07:28am

last line says it all --“We need to get out and tell American citizens, our fellow citizens, that we are a part of them and we want to work for them.”

Muhammad ASIM Rao Apr 29, 2017 08:11am

That is really nice to know - the elite group of talented health professionals in pakistan are doing great wonderful activities. Wish you all well and keep it up. Our best wishes to you all

BRAZIL first Apr 29, 2017 08:27am

My family's primary Dr is from pakistan.

pritam singh Apr 29, 2017 09:14am

I am glad to know about aapna. these types of associations are good for generating brotherhood among civilizations. long live your association

Zak Apr 29, 2017 09:21am

Great work by Pakistani Doctors. They have an excellent reputation in US.

Khaled Apr 29, 2017 10:22am

Great, wish them the best of luck in their worthy endeavors.

drug of choice Apr 29, 2017 01:36pm

If their mission is to help young doctors then APPNA is probably more useless than Jared kushner is at his white house job. They should stick to their role as a rishta bureau and helping Pakistani designers sell their stuff at the APPNA meetings. Probably 1% or less doctors have benefited from them in securing residencies.

mullahdopiazza Apr 29, 2017 01:59pm

@drug of choice : More of a publicity stunt than actual achievement. Look at those pictures. Do they look healthy and happy? Whatever they do, is to dodge the taxes and for 'personal glory'.

Amer Apr 29, 2017 02:12pm

I agree with DRUG OF CHOICE. I myself belonging to a family of doctors with one brother being a Doctor in US, APPNA is more of a social forum and has been useless for young doctors moving to US for jobs/post graduate trainings. Even for helping them acquire internships or unpaid research they have done nothing. I know numerous doctors who were either my colleagues in medical college or in family who have tried seeking help from APPNA and failed.

Just attend an event of APPNA and you'll see what's it all about.

Aftab Apr 29, 2017 03:29pm

I wish Pakistani origin US citizen should start integrating with bigger Indian diaspora in US.

Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Apr 29, 2017 03:34pm

APPNA for sure is doing a great job to promote, protect and reinforce the true message of Islam in general and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in particular in the United States of America. Kudos to all APPNA officials and members. Keep it up and hang on tough. May God Almighty bless you all. Aameen, Tsum Aameen.

TAmilselvan Apr 29, 2017 03:49pm

@Amer . Everything is fine as long as the incoming doctors from their respective countries don't compete with the existing ones. Same applies to Indian doctors association too.

Naeem Apr 29, 2017 03:52pm

How can people who reneged on their oaths of work visas, people who left their own countries ...ever be role models? Yes, I am negative...but negative to an campaign of PR image building and positive spin.

Shahid Khan Apr 29, 2017 04:37pm

@Amer I am a KE grad married to a Baqai grad. I helped myself and my wife. These people never helped me nor my wife. That's jus the two of us. My brother went to AKU and his wife to Dow. These people never helped them either. APPNA helps nobody except their own. It is truely a useless organization.

Shah Apr 29, 2017 04:41pm

APPNA is useless. Its forums are primarily to showoff wealth and find doctor rishtas for Young folks. Unlike Indans, Pakistanis don't help each other.

Naeem Apr 29, 2017 06:17pm

@Shahid Khan ..I am sorry but what does this all have to do with whatever diploma mill your family went to?........

Tariq, Lahore Apr 29, 2017 06:50pm

Having spent most of my professional life in the west I have yet to witness Pakistani expats 'truly' come to the help of their fellow countrymen. Any 'associations' formed are usually for self glorification and lacking in true 'spirit'! However, wish APPNA all the best for their efforts!

M. sHAHID YOUSUF Apr 29, 2017 06:53pm

Thanks Dawn for the wonderful coverage. Our charitable and disaster relief efforts have been ongoing from the very first day.

On the international scene APPNA has been involved in the following events. The full list is too long to reproduce here.

  1. The Indian Ocean Tsunami  Relief Indonesia 2004
  2. Pakistan-Azad Kashmir 2005 Earthquake
  3. Pakistan Floods 2010
  4. Nepal Earthquake April 2015
  5. Haiti earthquake 2010
  6. Nicaragua Mission 2016
  7. Nicaragua Mission 2015
  8. Funding of water wells in Tharparkar District, Pakistan.
  9. Funding with TCI several schools in Pakistan
  10. Over the years numerous eye camps in Pakistan
  11. The Karachi Heat Wave Project 2015
Mohammad Ali bajwa Apr 29, 2017 08:38pm

Frankly speaking, Pakistani community rarely, including doctors, assimilate with the others, especially the Goras.

MD rom MD Apr 29, 2017 08:51pm

The general perception among Pakistanis in US is that APPNA is a fun group! Given the amount of resources and level of expertise, it sad to say that APPNA has not done much for Pakistan! Most of APPNA memebrs are living in luxury and forgot that Pakistan proved them almost a free medical education and training, and yet they forgot to return the favor!

OBSRVR Apr 29, 2017 08:53pm

@M. sHAHID YOUSUF Considering the APPNA resources, the contribution is too small!

Farhan Apr 29, 2017 08:54pm

This group talks big and accomplishes little!

Zaki Apr 29, 2017 09:02pm

@Farhan Right on the money! This is a useless group!

Javed Qureshi Apr 29, 2017 09:47pm

Anyone who has lived in an APPNA House would know the conditions. I have lived in APPNA House Detriot and New York. Deplorable conditions! Unsanitary and unhygienic. These places are ridden with cockroaches and bed bugs. Subsidized accomodation - With 5-6 guys per room, no wonder. The wives of these APPNA doctors throw out lavish parties where these 'aunties' look for potential grooms (medical grads coming from Pakistan) for their daughters in exchange for Green Cards (hence better chances at NRMP matching). And then there is politics! One medical college pitted against the other and what not. ADVICE for yound doctors: Complete your USMLE steps and coordinate accomodation and travel to the US with your colleagues in Pakistan. The best example is Aga Khan grads. They look out for each other, avoid useless parties and actually help young grads with observerships, externships and research opportunities. No Aga Khan grad ever involves him/herself with APPNA. Good Luck!

Ashar Apr 29, 2017 11:43pm

It should be called Association of Pakistani Physicians who got subsidized medical education and then abandoned Pakistan!

shams Khan Apr 30, 2017 12:27am

APPNA has nothing to do With broader Pakistani community rather Self Centered Physicians from different institutions of Pakistan. Doctors from Punjab, Karachi, Peshawar have their own CLUSTER within APPNA. All office bearers are seen promoting their own interests rather pakistani doctors.... Nothing special about them Just another group where they socialize with their likes and show off their achievements (monetary and others) to all....

Rajiv Apr 30, 2017 12:36am

Anyone talking bets that all 100% of these claimed themselves as an Indian at some point in their life outside Pakistan??? What percentage do you think...?

sum ting wong Apr 30, 2017 09:06am

APPNA is a useless group. most of these member doctors are sub-par in their skills serving in the poor and backward area of USA because most of them aren't good enough to compete in the urban, well to do areas. They are financially better-off then cab drivers just because in the USA, doctors are paid well.

Dragon slayer Apr 30, 2017 09:48am

@BRAZIL first : Amd you have time to visit this website. Kindly wrote few reasons in Portuguese if you are really a Brazilian.

Baber Gul Apr 30, 2017 10:55am

@Tariq, Lahore

Some of us do come but we are now finding the doctors, in particular, are in the list of target killing. I wish the government could give us protection.

Yankee Cricket Fan Apr 30, 2017 04:04pm

@Rajiv I am not a physician, but two of my family members are, and they are part of AAPNA. I also know over 40 members/physicians who are part of AAPNA and they all proudly call themselves Pakistani Americans. When someone calls or confuses them as Indians, they always correct them. Your guess that majority call themselves Indian is not even close. Don't believe the nonsense you hear from your fellow Indians. Go and actually meet some of these people. Your opinion will change about Pakistani's in general.

Shahid Khan Apr 30, 2017 05:31pm

@Javed Qureshi Really? Then why is Dr Rizwan Khalid the cardiologist a member of APPNA? He's an AKU grad. Where do you live? AKU grads are Pakistanis and AKU is in Pakistan so the nature and nurture cannot change.

Zaman Apr 30, 2017 06:31pm

@sum ting wong where do you get your flawed facts? APPNA members are spread throughout the US. There are about 10,000 Physicians of Pakistani origin in the U.S. holding some of the most coveted positions.

Secular Pathan Apr 30, 2017 09:20pm

Honestly, I don't like these "Pakistani-American Doctors"

sar Apr 30, 2017 10:17pm

Say your are Pakistani and Americans will run away from is a sad reality....

Raja farhat Abbas May 01, 2017 12:14am

@Rajiv ...I would never ever refer to myself as an Indian,and nor would any of my friends or family.I grew up in Cardiff city,south wales ,Britain!!.

Salman May 01, 2017 12:42am

Did APPNA ever consider establishing a fund for the brilliant, but poor Pakistani students, who can not afford the fees and other expenses to attend the professional Medical Colleges in Pakistan?

Can APPNA provide the 1000 or as many scholarships, purely on merit, for such students per year?

Did APPNA ever try to identify, which medical areas or fields, Pakistan lacks expertise where APPNA can help?

Why Pakistani kids, who are born with a medical condition, a hole in the heart, have to go to India for medical treatment?

APPNA and Government of Pakistan have to ponder about it.

APPNA is doing a good job in many areas, but it can do better!

Keep it up the good work!

afiah May 01, 2017 12:43am

Useless, selfserving group of doctors.... physicians working in US like myself know them very well. No help ever comes from them for young Pakistani physicians...

Farrah May 01, 2017 12:49am

Even if APPNA is a social club or organization, it is indulge in a positive activity.

Sivaram Pochiraju May 01, 2017 06:22am

@Aftab : Pakistanis and Indians interact very well there without any inhibitions.

Maher HASAN , Dallas , USA May 01, 2017 07:22am

APPNA is doing a great job...Good to see a nice & vibrant function in North America!

Mike London May 01, 2017 08:01am

American doctors are overpaid and they making the medicare system go bust.

Akil Akhtar May 01, 2017 09:07am

The majority of comments are negative about AAPNA and having an experience of Pakistani diaspora in the west I am willing to believe them....We have no sense of pride on who we are.

Sajid Chaudhary May 01, 2017 09:27am

@sar we are Pakistani American physicians and tell the same to our patients. They are happy and trust us for their healthcare.

Javaid May 01, 2017 09:42am

@Akil Akhtar The reason for negativity is obvious: too much emphasis on personal promotion, no vision, and no service oriented thinking for the country!

Albert May 01, 2017 10:27am

@Farrah "Even if APPNA is a social club or organization, it is indulge in a positive activity" What positive activity? wasting huge amount of money on the entertainment programs! Why not spend that money to provide basic healthcare for the poor masses of your country of origin!