As part of the 25-year anniversary celebrations for the Class of 1993, we are pleased to highlight Abrar Qureshi. As you will see from the conversation below, Abrar is another star alumnus and brings another level of community service. We are very excited to present this profile to you.
Faisal Qureshi, ’93
Past President, 2016 – 17
1. Give me a quick summary of what you do exactly?
I am currently Professor and Chair, Department of Dermatology, Warren Alpert Medical School, Brown University, and Professor of Epidemiology at the Brown School of Public Health – my time is split in the four main areas of academic medicine, including administrative (managing the operational and fiscal affairs of a department and interacting with a physician-led faculty practice plan as well as three hospital systems), clinical care (my special interest lies in auto-immune and inflammatory skin diseases), teaching (we have our own dermatology residency program, research fellows and lots of interest from medical students) and research (mainly molecular epidemiology in human studies, bridging clinical research and basic science).
2. What aspects of your education in AKU helped you the most in deciding your future trajectory? What skills did AKU help you develop to help you succeed now?
Looking back, there seem to be three facets of AKU education that have facilitated my career. First, our medical training was rigorous, both in terms of breadth (covered all aspects of medical specialties) and depth (emphasis on attention to detail). That training certainly has helped bring gravitas to every day clinical care and I think distinguishes all of us as thoughtful and deliberate clinicians. Second, we were ingratiated with pure grit – the expectations were so high and odds seemingly insurmountable that we became familiar with adversity and I think at times welcomed challenging situations. This has ensured dogged persistence in the face of adversity! Third, we had so much material and information thrown at us simultaneously that we became outstanding at multitasking while able to deliver on specific tasks along the way, an important skill set to have.
3. Success in academics is often associated with publications and you seem to have developed a good mechanism to continuously publish. Is there a secret?
Maintaining excitement about a disease area or disease process can certainly drive research interests and publications – there is nothing more inspiring than identifying a specific problem/question in the clinical setting, then going back to the lab to look for focused answers and come back to the bedside with life-style altering measures or therapeutic insights. This usually happens when least expected – could be an observation after seeing a small group of patients respond to an off-label therapy or managing an adverse outcome of therapy. However, keeping an open mind and developing a sensitive nose for these opportunities is vital.
The other secret to success on publications is attracting and mentoring smart young people (who are much smarter than you!). In order to train the rising stars, you do need to provide the environment with resources that enable success, e.g. IRB support for clinical researchers or core services for basic scientists. Mentoring junior faculty and fellows/residents keeps me at the cutting edge. I feel constantly challenged. The challenges lead into novel projects followed by development of new insights. If you are really fortunate and it all comes together, you may also end up publishing highly cited and high impact manuscripts!
4. You have been involved with many relief efforts across the world. Tell me more about that? What type of work do you do?
A few years back, as the Syrian crisis unfolded, my wife Laura and I wanted to help, to do something, anything. A number of dominoes fell at the right time, including a meeting with Dr. Hisham Al-Khunkun who had trained in medicine in Amman, Jordan and had worked in the refugee camps himself. Around the same time, we learned about the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). Then I was off to my first mission trip to Amman, Jordan with SAMS in January 2016! As the refugees have been displaced for a few years, there was a major need for management of chronic conditions, including in mental health, dermatology, women’s health and primary care. It was a somewhat scary but fulfilling trip, where about 60+ physicians, dentists and nurses came together from all around the US and the world to work together. The morale was great and camaraderie was heart-warming! SAMS (see below) presence on the ground was impressive and I was at a refugee camp within hours of landing in Amman.
While I have worked with SAMS, Laura and the kids have worked with two other NGO’s on the ground in Jordan, volunteering in makeshift camps, typically situated 2-5 miles from the Syrian border – see below (Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) and United Muslim Relief (UMR)).
5. Your family has been very active with these efforts? What lessons have they learned and how can other families emulate your work?
Unplanned and unexpected, the humanitarian work has had an impact on our children. We have been back for two more trips and Laura suggested that we take our children.
The experience of working in the camps and interacting with other children their age was eye-opening for our teenagers, Afnaan, Daanish and Faizaan. Initial surprise and disappointment quickly transformed into hope and problem-solving. An important lesson they have learned is that when asked if they want or need something, displaced children do not ask for material ‘things’. Instead they want to be treated as just another child anywhere in the world, to play, and to listen to as well as tell their stories. In response, Afnaan and Daanish have co-founded a non-profit ‘Zumaan.com’ (implying ‘time’ or ‘era’) to enable displaced children anywhere to send in their stories via audio recordings. Even our younger children Iliyaan (11) and Zaahra (5) came back asking lots of questions, some of which we could not provide any answers.
We have been fortunate to have traveled safely and back a few times. Initially, it was a bit awkward explaining to people that we were taking all our children along on the trips – the immediate question always was, how do you know it is safe? Now that we have contacts on the ground, we would be glad to share any information we can to allow other families to be able to partake in this humanitarian work.
6. If an AKU grad wanted to get involved with your work, what should they do? How do they prepare and how can they reach you?
As a family we have worked with three organizations over the last couple of years, the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) and United Muslim Relief (UMR). These organizations all have excellent presence on the ground, and have specific areas of focus. SAMS provides timely and much needed high quality medical care and medicines within the larger UNHCR managed camps as well as through local health clinics across Jordan. HHRD and UMR provide humanitarian assistance spanning basic necessities of living such as shelter, food and clothing, as well as education and rehabilitation. All our work thus far through these three organizations has been with Syrian refugees in Jordan, although we have plans to visit Bangladesh in the near future.
Our goal has been to be useful and helpful when we arrive at a refugee camp. Planning ahead and learning about the non-profits we were going to work with was very important a priority. We also had to know the rules various organizations work under, e.g. to work with SAMS as a physician, you need to be registered with the health authorities in Jordan long before arrival. Fortunately all the planning and research before each trip was very productive and helped prepare us well for the situation on the ground. We would be delighted to share this information if there is interest among the alumni.
We would welcome AKU alumni reaching out to each of these organizations and offer their help – I would also be personally delighted to connect our alumni with specific individuals at each of these incredible organizations. We would also love to learn about similar humanitarian work that other alumni are engaged in so that more opportunities are available to all of us. Much is needed and we can do very little individually, but collectively we can really have a major impact. Although we have felt overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the problems during and after each trip, there has some solace in the grateful smiles we were greeted with at each camp we visited and the relationships we forged with other volunteers from around the world.
7. How would you like to see AKUAANA engage with alumni? What aspects of an alumni association are most important to you?
I am glad we have a vibrant alumni organization and kudos to you and others who have worked hard behind the scenes to make it happen! It is helpful to see AKUAANA helping connect us as a group, despite alumni now located all over the world. Couple of thoughts and resources that would not be very costly but may help bring us together in the real world:
1. Develop opportunities to volunteer/give back to non-AKU opportunities: It may be helpful to have a number of volunteer opportunities around the world (including Pakistan) where alumni can choose to volunteer. To get the ball rolling, I would suggest a brief one question survey of volunteer work alumni are engaged – this would help catalog a series of opportunities while simultaneously identifying a couple of leaders/resources for each opportunity. AKUAANA could be the hub for coordinating this effort!
2. Develop opportunities to volunteer/give back to AKU: We can create opportunities for alumni to volunteer in specific areas to boost AKU’s and other related organizations (e.g. AKF, AKRSP). Alumni could volunteer in their areas of interest that also fulfill AKU needs, such as development/advancement, education, research etc. To begin this process, a first step may be to begin formal conversations between the AKUAANA and AKU leadership, identify possibilities and set priorities before reaching out to the alumni to volunteer.
The AKUAANA website will feature an AKU alumnus from the classes celebrating their 20th, 25th and 30th year anniversary, over the year. Our aim is for profiles to highlight various aspects of alumni careers/lives – academic and research, clinical, private practice, political achievements, social activism, philanthropy etc.
Profiles of other alumni highlighted on the website over the time can be viewed under the “Featured Alumni” category.
In order to nominate someone or self-nominate, send your nomination and information by email to firstname.lastname@example.org