Zohair Saquib ’14 Follows in Physician Father’s Footsteps
Inspiration comes in many forms. Just ask Zohair Saquib ’14 how he arrived at his decision to pursue a career in medicine.
There were the insightful dinner conversations with his physician father. There was also the summer vacation in Pakistan, where the Nesconset, New York, resident first came face to face with poverty and disease. And there was the knowledge he accrued as a volunteer at Stony Brook University Hospital.
But it was when he came upon graffiti with the words "Knowledge is Power" emblazoned on the wall of a handball court that he knew he was wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“Some people find inspiration in books or through memories, idols, family or friends, but I found my inspiration in words radiating different hues of reds, blues and yellows etched onto a large, smooth slab of concrete,” said Zohair. “The vivid nature of the graffiti and the significance of those inspirational words became the cornerstone of my goal to be a physician.”
Growing up on Long Island, Zohair said he would listen intently as his father talked about the newest treatment plans and life-saving procedures while gathered for the evening family meal.
“Watching my father succeed in his profession, I was able to comprehend his sacrifice and commitment to lifelong learning and dedication to a cause — helping mankind,” he said.
In summer 2006 that realization further crystallized when a vacation to the family farm in Pakistan included an eye-opening visit to the village of Bakar (population of 1,000). “I saw shack-like homes constructed of mud and cow manure with an unbearable stench,” Zohair said. “I observed skin morphed by the unrelenting sun and people sheltered only by dilapidated homes and wearing tattered clothing. Despite the urge to leap from the bus and come to their aid, I realized I was powerless without knowledge or training.”
Zohair decided to acquire that knowledge at Stony Brook based on several factors. “Whatever school I chose would have to put me in an advantageous position to attend a competitive medical school, he said. “Stony Brook was a compelling choice with its robust reputation in the sciences and as the birthplace of the MRI, plus its excellent standing among research institutions. What better way would there be to work towards my dream than by passing by it every single day and fantasizing wearing a white coat, the symbol of a highly reputable medical school?”
The training came when he later volunteered at the Hospital. There, Zohair received further reassurance he was on the right path when he learned how to assess patients’ needs, communicate with other medical personnel for support, and most important, to remain calm in the midst of trauma.
“I discovered I was able to look beyond a patient’s diagnosis and ailments and focus on his or her specific needs rather than worry about their present state of health,” he said.
Zohair said that having the opportunity to participate in clinical research at University Hospital’s emergency room provided him with insights into what his medical future would entail. Some of the research programs he cited as invaluable included studies involving abdominal pain, sleep apnea and rapid-test sepsis. Equally educational was interacting with healthcare professionals and watching how they communicated with patients and their peers.
Another highlight came during an experience he had shadowing cardiologist Ramanjit Bagga at Huntington Hospital. “I was able to sit in a catheterization laboratory on multiple occasions and watch the procedures being conducted on patients,” he said. “Dr. Bagga explained to me what was going on through x-ray monitors and quick refreshers of physiology and anatomy. It was remarkable to witness a catheter being inserted into a patient and mechanically unblock their arteries.”
He also peered through a window into another side of research — the world of publishing, by becoming a staff writer for Stony Brook’s Young Investigators Review, an undergraduate science journal that highlights cutting-edge faculty research.
Then came what Zohair describes as his proudest accomplishment — being accepted into medical school. He will attend the Hofstra North Shore–LIJ School of Medicine. “For me it was like winning the Lotto with the additional benefit of being involved in a field where I can help make the world a better place,” he said.
As he prepares to attend medical school this fall, Zohair is at a crossroads, where the path could lead to either cardiology or orthopedics. Growing up in a family with heart problems has fueled his interest in cardiology, but Zohair also fancies orthopedics, partly motivated by his love of sports. Whatever path he chooses, Zohair said he intends to focus on preventative medicine. “I hope to educate my family members and patients to live a more healthy life,” he said.
That is why he has an eye on a very big dream — of someday becoming the surgeon general. “I believe that’s one of the major missions of that political office — educating people to improve their lifestyles so they are not constantly being treated for the same ailments or diseases. If people have the knowledge of what they can do to prevent disease, then they possess the power to change their own destinies.”
—By Glenn Jochum; photos by John Griffin