A member of the inaugural medical college class, Saad Shafqat graduated from AKU in 1988. He obtained a PhD in neuroscience from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and completed his Neurology Residency and Fellowship training at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. Saad celebrates his AKU experiences for motivating him towards the neurosciences. During the pre-clinical years, neuroanatomy taught by the late Prof. Ahsan Karim, neurophysiology taught by Prof. Neil Davidson, and neuropharmacology taught by Prof. Amin Suria, created a heady mix for Saad that kindled an enduring affinity for the study of the nervous system. In clinical years, this was further cemented by exposure to the debilitating spectrum of neurological illnesses, under the able guidance of neurologists Drs. Aziz Sonawalla and Irfan Altafullah, and neurosurgeon Dr. Rashid Jooma. By the time he graduated from AKU, Saad was convinced that a combination of basic neuroscience postgraduate education and advanced training in clinical neurology was the right path for him.
In late summer of 2000, Saad returned home to Karachi and was appointed Assistant Professor of neurology at AKU. At the time, several friends and classmates questioned his decision to return and cautioned him, but Saad says he has absolutely no regrets. It is generally felt that obligations to one’s aging parents are the prime motivating factor behind repatriation, but Saad sees it differently. He points out that such family obligations are common to everyone; so this alone cannot be enough, and there must be some extra attribute that makes a small minority of US-based AKU graduates relocate back. In a recent article published in the newsletter of the American Academy of Neurology, Saad wrote that he simply felt a “visceral urge” to go back home.
For all its ups and downs, living in Karachi and working at AKU have been very gratifying and rewarding for Saad. In 2008 he was appointed Head of Neurology, and in 2012 he was promoted to Professor. Neurology at AKU has always been one of the Department of Medicine’s busiest and academically vibrant sections. At present, it comprises 6 full-time and 8 part-time Neurologists, many of whom were trained in the US. During his tenure as chief, clinical volumes have seen a steady growth; inpatient mortality has been cut by half; and major extra-mural grants have been secured, including a US$ 500,000 stroke research training program funded by NIH. Saad credits each one of his sectional colleagues for enabling an atmosphere of transparency, collegiality, academic distinction, and clinical excellence, which has made neurology one of the very few clinical specialties at AKU that has not lost faculty to attractive job offers that keeping coming from the Middle East and North America.
A prominent feature of Saad’s activities has been his extra-curricular contributions. He has written on social issues for the lay press, and is a key member of AKU’s Sixth Sense Forum, which organizes lectures, readings and discussions on non-medical topics for the university community. In Pakistan’s favorite pastime of cricket, Saad has become something of a public aficionado, contributing a regular column to Dawn and to the ESPN website Cricinfo, and frequently appearing as a cricket analyst on television. His book “Cutting Edge,” the co-authored life story of Javed Miandad, appeared in 2003 and became a bestseller. He has also penned a fictional medical thriller that has been published in India and is due for release in the coming weeks.
Saad is married to his AKU classmate, Anita Zaidi, who is Professor and Chair of AKU’s Department of Pediatrics and Child Health. They have two children, Zehra (19) and Adil (12). Looking ahead, Saad says he is keen to play a greater role in Alumni Affairs. In particular, he would like to mentor young alumni who are returning from the US and joining faculty ranks at AKU. His key message to younger colleagues, for whom faculty life can sometimes appear to pose byzantine complexities, is not to be discouraged. “All you have to do is stay at the wicket,” he urges in his signature cricket-speak, “and the runs will come.”
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