Humanize medical: The movement begins


By profession, I am a disruptor and a futurist. That means: I look at things which do not work for what they had been designed for, find faults with them and trash them. I do not do that for ego’s sake. But for the sake of a better future and for the generations that will come after me. Not many would agree with a disruptor because his eyes are on a faraway future, and most people are happy to look at things as they are, and not as they could be.

I recently went through a family tragedy.

My younger sister Fatima Gul, with whom I had the best-ever brother-sister relationship, returned to her Creator, inna lillah. Diagnosed with a rare disease called GBS, she was admitted to a private hospital in Lahore and placed in ICU with ventilator on. She lived in Lahore while I was based in Karachi. With my wife Taz, I flew to Lahore, where Taz managed her home, five kids and family visitors while I did the night-attendant duty. After three weeks, Fatima died of a cardiac arrest.

Having spent two weeks at Lahore hospitals with my disruptor and futurist eyes open, this was good enough time to find what ailed the medical profession: apathy, the fundamental flaw in medical education and practice. And I mean, not just locally, but globally. We can easily stretch our imagination.

So, I resolved to myself that medical education and practice need to change, and I am going to start a global movement for humanizing the medical profession. Would you care to join?

I must clarify that this is not a reactionary movement. Because I am not coming out of this event with dying grief or complaining about stereotypical mistreatment or hospital butchery or wrong diagnosis. None of these. We believe in God and the time each individual has on earth. Quite content with what doctors or hospitals could do in this case.

I should also clarify that this movement is not aimed at the bad or ugly of medical profession. It’s about the good guys. The AKUHs, Doctors Hospitals and Shifas of this world – the best we have in our country. So, it’s not about incompetent or corrupt doctors or overcharging hospitals; it’s about the best of the best. Who may be best at what they are doing, but still devoid of the basic: humanness.

The reason: that no one in the profession has bothered to turn around it just because it was handed over to them in this state two centuries ago.

As for my background, I have taught an MBA course in Applied Leadership in Healthcare at country’s prestigious Dow University of Health Sciences’ Institute of Health Management, Karachi. This was aimed at medical superintendents of hospitals. Have also taught short workshops at College of Physicians and Surgeons (CPSP)’s Karachi and Hyderabad campuses.

I also had the opportunity to volunteer time and train doctors at charity hospitals like LRBT in courses like doctor engagement or doctor burnout.

At another time, I had the opportunity to train the Deans and HODs of Peshawar Medical College in new teaching methodologies. Similarly, I trained heads and most faculty from PICO Peshawar in Train The Trainer during last decade.

My other, main profession – executive training – has allowed me to come into contact with the Big Pharma CEOs and sales teams – any name that you could think of. This gave me insight into their role, needs and wants and vested interests. Along with this the equipment manufacturer – the Siemens and Philips of this world. So I have had a 360-degree view of the ecosystem.

The mission is: Humanize the medical education and practice. To bring back the ‘human’ in medical ecosystem.

Here’s my math:


One, five years of hard study at medical school, with bright kids buried under heavy books and disease names looking Latin to them, it’s a sure kill to remove any sentiment for other humans – peers, teachers, paramedics, medics. The focus is on memorizing and passing the exams. Apathy. No affinity with humans. The length of education and the way it is delivered is precisely the reason why we have lost ‘human’ in a doctor.

Two, apathetic, fatigued professors who routinely undermine students’ esteem because of the power they have and awe they carry.

Three, the focus is on disease, sickness and unwellness. Quite ‘negative’ sentiments. Not on wellness or health, which draw positive outlook and energy.

Four, the residency, the house job that goes on for years, with duties stretching 36 hours or 48 hours without proper sleep or break or a place to sit. This is sufficient to snatch any remaining humanity. Add to this the repetitive nature of their work which fatigues them further. Add to this the anxiety of patients and their family or attendants who clamor for information, attention or care.

So, even before doctors get license to treat patients, they have lost the ‘human’ side of their personality. To them, patients are merely a number, or disease-types.

Five, the fellowship/specialization education takes up years of boring study and exams after exams.

Six, now that they are practicing – job, clinic, hospital, the game is upped. The Big Pharma enters with their incentive schemes. Patients are now cash! So overtreatment starts. And if the doctors are associated with a big-name hospital with private patients inflow, other units also need to meet their revenue targets. Lots of necessary or unnecessary tests must be administered.

Seven, overwork, fatigue, burnout and the nature of medical profession where you are mostly dealing with emergencies make it a vicious cycle where patients do not feel cared for even at the best of hospitals.

Nurse / doctor showing blank clipboard sign

So, the million-dollar question is: what to do?

My answer:

  1. Digitize. With technology and internet making learning and teaching easy and fun, convert the medical-school experience into a playful time. Digitize the whole curriculum. Cut the jargon where you can. Rename body parts, diseases and compositions. Make it all visual. Create tablet-based education with medical and health apps talking to you about anatomy and physiology. Make it problem- and practice-based so the learning lasts. Reduce the length of medical education at each stage: pre-med, school, residency, fellowship. Intervene at three stages: 1) length of study, 2) learning & teaching methodologies, 3) the teacher behaviour towards students.
  2. Humanize. Since knowledge will be available at the touch of a button, emphasize just one core value during school: it’s a human treating another human being. To the best of their ability.
  3. Right-size. Redesign healthcare facilities – primary, secondary and tertiary. With Google Glass-type medical technologies, patients can be diagnosed and treated with more precision. Redesign work spaces and work hours. Redesign their salaries and benefits. So they are not thinking about the pay, but they are thinking about their work.
  4. Educate. Place emphasis on wellness and health. Educate the population on how to live healthy and remain well. So fewer numbers come to the hallways of clinics and hospitals. Governments in partnership with the healthcare facilities have to undertake awareness programs for the general population.
  5. Energize. Those who are employing doctors – private hospitals or governments – create ongoing programs for doctor engagement. During debriefing, doctor morale and doctor emotions are captured and addressed. That doctors are treated as human beings, and not just a revenue machine. This may address neglect and preventable deaths.
  6. Penalize. Big Pharma is already under tremendous pressure and they have been fined billions of dollars for paying bribes to doctors to prescribe their medicines. Hoping that the laws get stricter and pharma becomes more responsible, offer low-cost drugs, manufacture it in low-cost factories in the world, and put people before profits over time. This may resolve the overtreatment issue.

In essence, the medical profession needs to be overhauled. We need to humanize the medical education and practice.

The way forward?

We need three types of volunteers:

  1. Volunteers who could write original content in how the medical education can be digitized and taught differently and who could present at various forums and social media
  2. Volunteers who could dig existing data about practice flaws and bring it in one place and who could link with similar efforts elsewhere.
  3. Volunteers who could manage social media channels – like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pages.

In due course, we hope that we can pilot a program at a medical school and implement this new, humane approach at a medical facility, and be able to present this data in a white paper, and at national and international medical conferences. Over a period, this movement hopes to gain momentum and find better leaders to take it to the next level.

Want to join? Visit the #HumanizeMedical website. See volunteers section.

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By Wali Zahid, author of iBook, Great Training in 10 Simple Steps, available from Apple Store for free.


  1. It’s an excellent idea. Starting with the medical profession which is supposed to be humanistic in its approach towards its customers (patients) this should be extended to other professions as well, like engineering, bureaucracy, police, bankers, religious leaders etc

  2. I don’t kinda agree with the part that tough studies, long and demanding work hours has much to do with making them less human. The doctors aboard have it even tougher but majority of them remain quite humble and grounded. I found Pakistani doctors to be pompous and full of themselves. No offense intended 🙂

  3. Excellent endeavor. Understanding of ‘apathy’ is different for the people from social science and natural science. So, can you please explain it in your context? Often doctors are focused on patients and their disease and tend to ignore worries and concerns of the attendants. Reason is that they don’t have time and lack social skills. Lastly, we should review medical ethics and see where to propose reforms.

  4. Malpractice is part of human nature… It is best reported in US and other developed countries. We doctors here have some role in the malpractice all over the world but what is the actual role of a doctor for any incident is minimal. Because doctor is responsible for all mistakes of lower staff so at the end of the day total burden is on doctor. Indeed practice needs some changes but what we do with most highly educated persons???? 2 days back a MPA slapped a doctor. If this slap would had been to a judge, lawyer, DSP of police, captain of army then what steps have been taken up? We are neither facilitating nor giving them due respect and yet we are expecting optimal outcomes. In US for the population of 320 million, 950000 consultants are available.. These are most highly paid individuals collectively. We have 200 million population yet we are not able to handle 10000 consultants…… Pitfalls are in the system. We declared Ahmadis as non-Muslim but what is cause that we killed an Ahmadi US return cardiologist who was earning 30 million rupees per year and returned to home land for serving the people? If any thing is required then it is need to compile the administrative setup first. Few days back I saw a post that people earning 75K US$ per year are living satisfied. We are 72% economic nation as compare to US. So Dr. don’t deserve some thing special? Actually all over the world doctors are not being paid highly due to their job or work but it is due to the nature of their job and responsibility….

  5. I do’nt think there can be any excuse which we can put for being cruel,but as i know in this profession the doctors are given special training to stay inhuman to treat human.In my one workshop i shared my view that in our society we need patients more than doctors in this sence that patients are sensitive while doctors cure sensitivity and. patients have hope but doctors are hopeless. And we nwed hope and sensitivity to exist in world.

  6. While I agree with the problem identified, I am not convinced on the root cause and the solutions proposed.
    I think we should do some more research on the root cause bedore working on the solutions.

    We should ask the doctors, the patients, the medical students and the medical college staff amd hospital staff (May be a questionnaire asked online by each group) and then do the analysis to find the root cause.
    if agree with the approach, I am in for designing the questionnaire (at least for patients) will be needibg some medical ppl for that as well.
    May Allah bless you and all ameen

  7. Moreover, we should also analyse if it’s a problem with Doctors or is it a cultural cun National issue.
    I have been associated with Customer services in Pakiatan and have felt that we as a Nation lacks courtesy, values and respect.
    This angle will help us get to the root cause.

    On this note, while I understand we can’t solve everything in one go. We can start with foctora profession or may be soing something in our schooling system (values course in the curriculum or may be extending Islamiat curriculum to values etc

  8. Sorry for a lot of typos. I think my cell phone’s keypad is yet to be friends with me 🙂

  9. Interesting. But entirely too ambitious, I think. In my humble opinion, you need to tackle this one bit-size piece at a time. Your ambitious plan is the equivalent of saying, I want to save the world! Admirable. But not really realistic.
    Think in terms of tackling how you convince busy, harried doctors how to humanize the interaction between them and their patients. How do they close the door to their office and block out every other nagging annoyance and focus 100 per cent of their attention on the patient in the room at that moment? How do they manage to make eye contact, to listen with 100 percent of their being, to care?
    Once that huge issue is fixed, pick the next important area.

    1. Zahid Bahi, very interesting and fact based findings and direction. Thanks for sharing. I can well understand because my wife is Doctor. When I shared this , she shared with me some stories of their teacher. So the person is absolutely correct. One of my relative is in pharmaceutical side and story from him also confirm that part is also correct. Abrar

  10. Yes its a good initiative and a good step to train our doctors mentally and psychologically to remain calm and especially polite. Because patients are also human beings.
    And digging a community service for helping for free atleast once in a week.
    I volunteer myself and it will be an honour.

  11. JazakAllah for the article. Very very true. There is an acute feeling of this in the public sector especially. I am a 4th year medical student at the Aga Khan University, Karachi. Something along these lines is in the grassroots here. I really hope something comes of it inshaAllah. If something kicks off, we’d love your help in the matter. InshaAllah with your permission I’d like to keep in touch.

  12. Dear Wali, excellent report. You are right to imply somewhere that dehumanizing aspect happens without realizing because in the fundamentals the core aspect of treatment of humans was never recognized. It is more like training engineers to work on machines. Well, not exactly but effectively. Reason: the human aspect is not inculcated across subjects but if at all taught or mentioned it is more of secondary nature. Also, the fact that for a patient and their family members the incident of illness of a dear one is a one off incident whereas the doctor is dealing with human being suffering from illnesses all the time resulting in some form of apathy (I would call it self-balance or defence system) does come into operation. Just like in some other professions like Judges (and even management consultants) in varying degrees where in order to maintain objectivity and balance emotions are not allowed to interfere. It is the toughest call on the medical profession though. They have to deal with lives and deaths. And also live normal lives themselves. Striking a balance where they can appear to be compassionate and empathetic while not losing grip on their own senses is a delicate fulcrum to dance on. This is exactly why your report comes in as a Disruptor’s report. There will need to be a major paradigmatic change in the ways things are taught. And I fully support your view that this beginning should be made somewhere. Although we know that results of medical outcomes will not be affected even after that but those who go home from hospitals (patients as well as attendants) will feel a lot cheered up and feel connected with the healers. My two pence !

  13. Excellent writeup. I am willing to volunteer. However things are good at paper, but need reality for application ans a road map.

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