Dr Nasar Khan – Reshaping Psychological Well-being
Dr Nasar Khan belongs to a middle class family from Lahore and is currently a Professor of Psychiatry at SIMS & SHL. His father worked as a business executive and the children had all the possible opportunities to succeed in life. In 1979, Dr. Muhammad Nasar Sayeed Khan completed his Matriculation from Garrison High School for boys and went on to Forman Christian College for his Intermediate (FSc with pre-medical). When the time came for admission to medical school, he couldn’t get in the his preferred choice and this upset him a lot. However, when the merit lists were arranged and final adjustments made, his name came in the Allama Iqbal Medical College list and so his dream of pursuing the medical profession found a strong footing.
A hardworking man who never gave up on his goals, he had to struggle a lot over the course of his career to achieve them. After graduating from medical school, his house job period started and he was faced with a crucial decision to opt for money over skill. He did his first six months of house job in surgery but the ward where he wanted to work was full and didn’t have any paid positions. Instead of opting for a different ward with a paid position he decided to do an honorary house job with no pay but with considerably greater learning opportunities. His dedication and work impressed the professor enough that he decided to offer him a paid position after a month. Later in the second phase of his house job in the medicine department, the same situation repeated itself and he stuck with the same rule.
“I think that leaving the option of money aside and doing something that you want to do for your passion regarding your own future prospects is more important”.
After completing his house job period, Dr Nasar was thinking as to what professional course he should opt for, but at the same time he started working in radiology before making any final decisions. During the same period he got the opportunity to work with the best in the field, Prof. Rasheed Mian at his clinic, known as the X-ray Center, which was the best in Lahore at that time. At the same time he started working evening and night shifts at the Farooq Hospital.
It was on Prof. Rasheed Mian’s advice that Dr Nasar opted to do his post-graduation in radiology. Prof Rasheed facilitated his admission in PJMI for DMRD (Diploma in Radiological Medicine), though he never completed it. Within six months of his enrollment, he appeared and cleared public service selection process and was selected as a medical officer.
“I did this because people around me who guided me told me that getting a government job in Pakistan was the most important component of my life. Which I think it is not and this is what I have been teaching to my post-grad trainees. Your qualification and skill should be a priority over financial gains.”
When Dr Nasar joined his first posting at Shekhupura and got familiar with the system, he was shocked and saddened. The dispenser was using the same needle to inject multiple patients to the extent that the needle was blunt, causing excessive bleeding. That is when he decided that he won’t continue as a general practitioner. While in the process of deciding a specialty, he thought to opt for psychiatry. Given his natural ability of being a good listener and talker, this was the right fit.
“Unfortunately at that time and even now, psychiatry is not a recognized specialty. I was not even able to discuss it with my family that I want to opt for this because people used to say that the doctor who treats patients with mental health issues, ends up going mad.”
After getting his transfer from Sheikhupura to General Hospital, Rawalpindi, Dr Nasar started working in the field of psychiatry. The first two years were really hard, and a plethora of financial, family, personal and other professional problems landed upon his shoulders. A year and half late, Dr Nasar cleared his FCPS part one and completed his training. Followed by this, he got transferred to his home town and joined Services Hospital. Simultaneously he completed his post-graduation, delayed by three years due to multiple reasons.
The resistance towards this ignored field of medicine made Dr Nasar push harder to fight for the people suffering from mental health issues and the development of the profession. People always discouraged him by predicting a grim financial and professional future for him, as well as a miserable personal life.
“I think I become a good psychiatrist because I was a good communicator. Reflecting on my life, by helping people stigmatized by society, I got everything; financial stability, prestige, popularity and a say in policy development.”
As mentioned earlier as well, all his achievements are soaked with a great amount of struggle. Where professorship takes an average eight years, it took Dr Nasar eighteen years all thanks to the lack of stable government policies and red-tape. Looking at his counterparts, he realized that none of them has had the guts to become a psychiatrist. This is the biggest problem in addition to the fact that people within the field are not willing to take it forward. Many seniors want to just hold on to the power, not letting others come in and do something good for the country. Voicing his opinions openly and fighting for the cause within the Pakistan Society of Psychiatry for a good twelve years, he will now be heading the organization where he hopes to bring progressive changes so that the system becomes more inclusive.
“I have trained 32 doctors, full FCPS, more than 3,000 family physicians and a countless number of psychologists who are now working in the field. This is what I consider my major contribution. I was warned that these people would ultimately sabotage my practice but that never worried me. I have always been interested in lecturing and for that I went all across Punjab and Kyber-Pakhtunkhawa.”
In 2000, he was selected as a Fellow of Program on International Mental Health in Australia for a year, which was a Melbourne University and Harvard Medical School program on mental health research and development and public advocacy. He is the only one from Pakistan to date who has done this. Later on he got an opportunity to appear in NHSA (Northern Health Science Alliance) in UK. Once again being the only Pakistani and competing with seven other nationals he was selected and offered the seed in 2001. This was an opportunity for him to settle in the UK with a lot of financial benefits and future prospects. In the end he decided to give it all up and stay, because his services were needed in Pakistan and he decided to play his part.
“I started doing research from the start and because of the lack of resources, I was writing them with my colleagues in the hospital. However, now I am doing a major research project on genetics and schizophrenia along with counterparts in Canada and US. We hope to get a good date from Pakistan and push forward the field of study here.”
Dr Nasar identifies depression as the most common mental health problem in Pakistan. Among its various causes, there is a neurochemical imbalance somewhat similar to diabetes. The treatment is affordable and can help people lead a good and happy life but instead they are not properly identified or diagnosed and even if they are, they end up getting treated by quacks, causing them further harm. Treating mental health issues as a taboo instead of as a medical condition needs to stop. It is time that we talk about it and treat them accordingly.
“Money is not success and people need to get this. We have examples like Edhi. Money can’t give you peace or happiness. Worldly gains don’t make you happy, it is something inside you that makes you happy. A man on a bicycle with Rs 100 in his pocket and food for his family can be happy while someone driving a Rolls Royce can be unhappy with his life because of his circumstances that surround him. Religion and spirituality are very important aspects as they give you peace, comfort and broad mindedness in life.”
Dr Nasar’s parting message not only sums up his own definition of life but is a sprinkling of wise words that can help us improve our quality of life as well. He believes that one needs to work really hard to bring about a positive change. It all begins with good mental health; healthy minds, people, families, environment lead to a healthy nation.