Behind the Curtains Session 12: Tête-à-tête with Dr Shakeel

It was sometime in March when we met Sir Shakeel, and asked him for an exclusive interview. The celebrated Biochem Head readily obliged, but factoring in our procrastination and busy schedules, it wasn't until a fine day in May that Team Kemunited, led by Muhammad Usama, and including Muhammad Mohsin Ali, Ayesha Saeed, Ayesha Mushtaq, Bilal Rehman and Kainat Zafar headed over to Sir Shakeel's office for a cup of tea and some formal/informal chatter.  

Where are you from originally?
I’m a Lahori. I belong to Shahdara.

From where did you do your MBBS?

Allama Iqbal Medical College. I was part of the fourth batch.

Why did you choose Biochemistry?

The main reason was that when I was an undergraduate student, biochemistry was not a separate subject. It was a part of physiology, and we studied only some important topics. After MBBS I started thinking about post-graduation. I felt that I was late so I decided to opt for basic sciences. It was then, when I started seeing Biochemistry as the queen of all basic sciences in the sense that in Biochem we try to analyze things at the molecular level.

How was your Biochemistry when you were an MBBS student at AIMC?

 (laughs) My Biochemistry was very poor. Most of us didn’t take Biochemistry seriously because it didn’t use to be a full-fledged subject back then. There used to be just one question from Biochemistry in the Physiology exam. And there was no separate viva exam from Biochemistry either. We didn’t even have all these excellent (international) Biochemistry textbooks back then. Everybody used to study Dr. Mushtaq’s book.

What did you want to specialize in when you were a medical student?

I wanted to enter the clinical side, especially pediatric medicine. This is why after my house job, I joined the pediatric unit at Sheikhupura DHQ hospital. It was a great learning experience for me.

Were you a back-bencher or a front-row nerd?

I used to sit at the front and never took a holiday. Although it is an entirely other matter whether or not I actually listened to the lectures! [laughs]

Did you participate in extracurricular activities in your student life?

I used to take part in debates and loved to play football when I was very young but later on given the circumstances and burden of work had to let go of these activities.

Were you obedient or naughty as a student?

Truth be told I used to try my best to complete my sleep, so that I could take time out to study or do other important things. Is sab mai shararton ka time hi nahi milta tha.

How has the Biochemistry department in KE evolved over the years?

There are a couple of things here. When this subject was started there was a deficiency of teachers. We could not find a Dr. teaching Biochemistry. The people who came in this field were from biological sciences. They were from organic chemistry, M.Phil. Biochemistry and many years ago some of our teachers were even from pharmacy. They were masters of their subject but they did not know much medical biochemistry. After that, when this became a separate subject and our medical graduates started coming then medical Biochemistry gained its true value. Because all the teachers were doctors i.e. medical doctors who later got their post-graduation in biochemistry

Any favorite memory during your time in KE?

There were a few funny incidents that happened with me and my senior professor. In a viva, a girl didn’t answer 3-4 questions, and when the professor encouraged her, she went berserk and started saying: “nahi kuch ata, kia kar lein ge” [chuckles]. Another time I had a student in viva who wouldn’t answer any questions, but would just start laughing. I diagnosed her as a bipolar patient and counseled and guided her towards medication, and luckily she recovered. She not only passed the exam but also went on to become a successful doctor. It is moments like these that I cherish.

What changes do you want to enforce in Biochem department?

For one, we need a bigger faculty, as well as bigger labs, with logistics such as PCR, DNA Sampling etc to improve our research potential. We will soon be shifting the department to Patiala Block, but these changes take time. I would like to see a bigger, research oriented department.

How do you compare the students of KE and other medical colleges?

Students of KE are like gems and pearls, Doctor Sahib! They cannot in any way be compared to others.

Second year has this slogan “Shakeel tere janisar! Beshumar! Beshumar!”. What do you have to say about this?

Well it is the affection of students for me; students feel that if we—let me tell you something, any person’s behavior is depicted when he or she is in a true stress. It happens in viva, the students appear bewildered. At times some students have Biochem viva just after the day of their Anatomy viva so they are confused. You can’t judge what he or she actually knows. I felt it in my student life and now also as a teacher I feel that if the student is relaxed a bit, he regains his original composure. So, perhaps the students consider it good and feel that our teacher is cooperative, however as far as merit is concerned I do not compromise at all. Rest, it is the personal fervor of students because this is only one side of the picture. Otherwise it is said that the one who has more “Jaanisars” is also hanged earlier.

Students don’t normally share their problems with teachers but they feel comfortable in doing so with you. What do you think is the reason behind this?

Our students are just like our own kids and in my experience kids only own you when you show them kindness. Like in many families kids are more close to their fathers as compared to their mothers because their fathers are more affectionate. Similarly some kids are very close with their grandparents. I think students confide in me because of the same reason.

Why do you think students fail in the professional exams, especially viva voce? How can they overcome their failure?

Usually there is a genuine reason behind a student’s failure in the viva exam. For example, he or she has some domestic issues and is not been able to come to the classes at all resulting in an extremely low attendance percentage. Or they have a psychological problem. Or an illness such as migraine. Similarly some students experience episodes of depression due to exam pressure. Others become homesick.
A good teacher should always be able to detect the cause behind a student’s poor performance. My own daughter became extremely depressed and homesick in hostel. I guided her friends and teachers on how they should help her out. And Alhamdulillah she passed her first professional with flying colors.

What thing makes you angry when a student comes for viva?

When I feel that a student has heard questions from outside and memorized the answers, and hasn’t studied properly on his own, that is what makes me angry.

What are your hobbies?
I don’t have many hobbies as such. But I like to make tricky MCQs in my spare time. And on one such occasion I realized that one can make a book on MCQs for students.

How do you like to spend your Sundays?

I am an early riser. I like to spend my idle time at home or if my wife or children want to hang out I take them out for some recreational time. Obviously, I have to buy weekly groceries on Sundays and have to tend to the piled up household work that’s been neglected all week long.

Which is your favorite movie?

First blood, Rambo wali. Wo baray shoq se dekha karta tha! I’d sit in the front row of the cinema when we went to the movies.

Sir would you care to share your experience on becoming a father for the first time?

*laughs* doctor sahib ye ap ne bara fantastic question poocha hai. When I became a father for the first time and held my daughter, the first thought that came to my mind was:

“Mujhay ab insaan bana chahiye”

Do you like to travel?

I haven’t traveled abroad except for Hajj. Within Pakistan, I’ve seen many places. I’ve been as far as Kalaam with my family. I have visited Kaghan, Naran, Gilgit, Skardu, Neelam Valley. 

How do you manage your family life and professional life?

The crude reality is that a doctor does not have as ideal family life as that of a person who returns home after an 8 hour work shift. A doctor’s life is solely devoted to his patients. His life is not his anymore; it has been ordained for the betterment of mankind.

Did you always wanted to become an HOD?

Nahi, nahi doctor sahab, becoming HOD is actually a gift from god. My designation is still Assistant Professor, “buss Allah ne es kursi pe bitha diya hay jis k liye me uss ka both shukar guzar hun, es me mera apna koi kamal nahi hay doctor sahab.” 

What have you learned from your years of experience?

A person while dealing with children should remain cool-minded as frequent scolding and

humiliation is dangerous for both a young or older student. It has a negative impact most of the times whereas counseling of the subject is way more effective.  Harsh words and strictness shatter the confidence of the child and result in poor performance.
Actually, teaching students younger than your age is very beneficial for you and it is your moral duty to keep track and counsel your colleague who is having a hard time with his studies.

You have served in the rural areas yourself. What are your views about this? Should it be made a compulsory practice for all medical school graduates?

Let me just tell you an incident from when I was serving in a remote area in Sargodha. A very old man in a threadbare tehmat would brave the bitterly cold weather to come to the medical dispensary where I was serving to receive his weekly dose of ferrous sulfate tablets. It was a really substandard and cheap iron preparation and was sold at the rate of a thousand tablets per rupee in the market. Being a government-funded dispensary, we would supply him those tablets for free. I used to wonder what he did with those substandard tablets. Did he sell them? But they were too cheap. So I asked him what use those tablets were to him. His reply brought tears to my eyes, “I have chronic pains in my joints and muscles. These tablets prevent them”. The fact that something so useless and cheap in my eyes could be of so much benefit to a poor man like him made me cry several times that night.
My message to all the young graduates is this: please do not hesitate from working in the peripheral areas. If done with the right intention, it is the biggest form of ibadat.

How do you feel when your old students come to visit you many years after their graduation?

I feel very proud. It feels just like meeting my own children. What makes me especially happy is when I come to know of my students serving the humanity not just in Pakistan but around the globe.

Any advice you would like to give to the students, based on your experience?

Once you have entered into a medical college, all you should think is that your life is for the patients only. Your first priority is your patient.

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be?

My second choice was to join the bureaucracy. I am not interested in politics because it requires one to tell a lot of lies. But Bureaucracy has the power to change things if that power is appropriately used.

Do you think you have achieved whatever dreams or aspirations you had? Are you happy with whatever you have achieved in life?

Doctor Sahib! Allah has blessed me more than I deserved! Which I think is firstly because of the students’ love, and secondly due to the patients’ prayers. Showing the right path to anyone is a big thing. You should try to live for the patients, so the patient is happy with you when he goes home.

Your plans for life after retirement?

I will join a private medical college after my retirement. If I have the energy, I would also continue to run my clinic, but my energy is fast depleting. I can’t handle two jobs simultaneously. I will perform only one job.

Your favorite poem?

Saghar Siddiqui became depressed and started taking drugs. One such time, when he was in a drugged state, police caught him and presented him in front of a magistrate. The magistrate asked him if he was a poet, and when he replied in the affirmative, the magistrate asked him to narrate one of his ghazals. It was then that he narrated the following ghazal:

 With that, the interview concluded. Excited and relieved as we were after the interview, we would not go away without the group selfie and pictures.

(Team Kemunited would like to thank Sir Shakeel for his cooperation and kindness. We hope that students gain further from his knowledge and experience, and view him as an inspirational figure after reading this interview.)


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