As an internationally trained physician with a secure future, moving to Canada was a huge step for Dr. Ibrar Mustafa. Fuelled by his passion to further his medical training and oncological research acumen, he chose a professional program that would allow him to hone his skills and offer him a robust career path. He spoke to us about his life in a candid interview shedding light on the barriers that made him who he is both professionally and personally.
Zoya Retiwalla for the TRP | July 2020
Ibrar uprooted himself from a comfortable life in Pakistan to realize his dream of bridging gaps between patients and world-class healthcare infrastructure. He attributes his sister’s tryst with cancer to his decision of immigrating to Canada. Having completed his physician’s training, he was in cardiovascular residency when his sister was detected. This news made him shift gears and pursue pharmaceutical research in hopes to find her a cure.
He swiftly realized that precision medicine and early-stage clinical trials were unavailable to Pakistani patients. This propelled him into exploring options in Canada. On his first visit, McGill University offered him a fully-funded Ph.D. in cardiovascular surgery. The thought of spending six to seven years on the bench and the demise of his sister made him turn down the offer and return to his home country.
He then went on to complete his MD and began working in the healthcare sector. During his time at Med school, he was a part of numerous welfare societies and charitable initiatives. Having been raised with a silver spoon, it was during the experiences working pro bono that he saw a completely different world. He narrated an incident that changed his life forever.
He was doing his rounds when an aged woman fell to his feet and begged him to help save her daughter, who urgently needed a blood transfusion. Ibrar promptly did the needful. In gratitude for a pint of blood that he donated, she placed a bunch of crumpled currency notes in his hand. “She gave me everything she had, I told her I didn’t need it, but she refused to take the money. She needed it, but she said I was a God-sent and that this is the least she could do for me.”
This episode moved Ibrar and realized that saving lives is what he is meant to do. He has never charged his patients in Pakistan for consultation, “I don’t need anything other than helping people and seeing them happy.” Having worked in the medical sphere for years, he saw the gaping holes in infrastructure that prevented quality care from reaching those who needed it. He realized that if he had to help bridge these gaps, he needed to be better equipped. With newfound passion, he charted his path and returned to Canada.
He was looking for a professional program that would offer him a robust career path and allow him to amalgamate business and healthcare. Serendipitously, he met Joseph, who encouraged Ibrar to join the Translational Research Program. “When I first met Joseph, I didn’t know he was the director of the TRP. He was extremely encouraging and believed in my vision. If not for him, I would have been sleeping on my initiatives, hesitating to bring them into reality.”
Ibrar wasted no time, and while in his first year at the University of Toronto, he launched his first initiative – doctrine. It is a telemedicine portal that brings the world’s best healthcare to Pakistan. DoctRing pays the doctors who consult patients while the patients have access to specialists free of charge. It is a virtual platform with an EMR wherein the doctors can prescribe medication and write tests. The medicines can be delivered to the patient’s doorstep, while tests can be scheduled through the portal.
His team is working on launching a mobile application which should be available for use by the end of August. They are also working on biometric identification being implemented through DoctRing (hyperlink the COVID blog). Pakistan has no universal healthcare, and that makes it difficult to track patients. A biometric approach would solve this issue and also be useful in case a patient is unconscious.
Given the ongoing coronavirus landscape, his team stepped up to the unprecedented challenge, launching their second initiative. Ibrar had worked as a lead volunteer for a medical camp during the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and then during the Pakistan floods in 2010. He used these experiences to build a framework to help in the COVID-19 situation in his home country.
Since the start of the pandemic, DoctRing has distributed 1500+ PPE Kits, 4000+ masks, and 2500+ sanitizers to Health Professionals, Police, and Rescue teams across the country. Additionally, they installed four disinfectant spray walkthrough doors at quarantine centres and public offices. Over 20 pharmacies are on board their initiative and are providing all DoctoRing members discounts on their medical supplies. They have also donated over 2000 ration bags containing essential food to families who were at the brink of starvation. “Hunger can kill a person quicker than a virus,” he said.
During their informal interviews about the needs of the people, their team discovered that a lot of blue-collar individuals had lost their jobs during the pandemic. To provide for sustainable living, Ibrar decided to create a marketplace called ‘OstaadG’ his third initiative. “Each time a patient comes in, a doctor has to keep a finger on the pulse. I’m keeping a finger on the pulse of this market.” To make this easily accessible and to connect the right employees with the correct employers, his team is developing a mobile application that would be ready for launch in August.
When asked about how the TRP helped he said, “when training horses, blinders are put to prevent the horse from deviating from a set path. My education had been with blinders until I came to the TRP. They remove the blinders and encourage you to think outside the box. They encourage you to create your path instead of asking you to walk down the well-trodden paths. The Translational Research Program is a melting pot of different opportunities. They empower you instead of spoon-feeding, and that’s what makes the difference.”
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Dr. Ibrar Mustafa
Mustafa is a skilled and dynamic physician who is passionate about clinical research and health system innovation including software solutions. He has over 10 years of experience in direct patient care and clinical trial management. He has also worked as CRA for GSK- clinical trial operations. He aspires to build a CRO in Pakistan and hopes to bridge the gap that exists on local gene pool in research and innovation. He was involved in developing and leading training material and courses to medical staff and has good presentation skills. In leisure time, he loves to act as a motivator for youth struggling with their career goals. He wishes to join the toastmasters club for further skills.
While the world grapples with an unprecedented enemy, Dr. Ibrar Mustafa a Student at the TRP, launched a telehealth portal. It not only connects the world’s best doctors to patients who lack proper healthcare infrastructure but also supplies PPE and food to the needy.
Zoya Retiwalla for the TRP | July 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly become the most pressing public health emergency across the globe. There are millions of confirmed cases with the number rapidly rising. Anxiety and uncertainty cast a wide net while some of us pivoted in response to the landscape and found opportunities in challenges.
Groups sprung up almost immediately across countries in support of their communities. While Canada has universal healthcare infrastructure, lower and middle-income countries are disproportionately burdened due to weaker health care infrastructure and the lack of resources. Our student, Dr. Ibrar Mustafa, realized that his home country, Pakistan, had gaping healthcare gaps. He leveraged his expertise and everything he learned at the TRP to provide aid in tackling the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Pakistan has a lack of access to basic health care services, poverty, lack of health infrastructure. In addition to this, lockdowns in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, have affected the lives of some of the most vulnerable communities across the country, such as migrant laborers, skilled workers, single mothers, and daily wage earners, who are likely to be unemployed for an unforeseen period due to the pandemic.
Ibrar saw a pressing need and started working on people-centric solutions. Along with a handful of his acquaintances, he launched an online telehealth portal called DoctRing, the first of its kind in Pakistan. This portal allows patients pro bono virtual consultations from the best healthcare practitioners affiliated to DoctRing. It is a perfect platform for millions of people. It provides help in evaluating health problems, choosing the right health professional, booking appointments, and schedule screenings or testing, receiving medications, storing digital health records, and exploring better ways to live healthily.
Ibrar believes that access to healthcare is a right for every individual, and DoctRing Tele medicare bridges the gap between health professionals and patients. It provides remote and fast access to state-of-the-art healthcare systems and services by maintaining a strong patient-physician relationship without compromising the quality of care. His team believes in building a healthy community regardless of the distance or geographical boundaries and is committed to meet the healthcare needs of global citizens anywhere, any time.
With the novel Coronavirus raging in Pakistan, Ibrar’s DoctRing team promptly lend their services to support the government by providing personal protective equipment to the frontline workers. They shunted their marketing budget and provided 1500+ PPE Kits, 4000+ masks, and 2500+ sanitizers to Health Professionals, Police, and Rescue teams across the country. Additionally, they installed four disinfectant spray walkthrough doors at quarantine centres and public offices. Over 20 pharmacies are on board their initiative and are providing all DoctoRing members discounts on their medical supplies.
Ibrar, being a physician and researcher himself, understands the importance of convalescent plasma for vaccine and drug development. Convalescent plasma is collected from the blood of someone who has recovered from a virus. When a person is infected with a virus, their body starts mounting an immune response against the virus resulting in the production of antibodies. These virus-specific antibodies are particularly essential in the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. DoctRing collects and donates convalescent plasma to further COVID-19 research and management efforts.
To spread awareness about the novel coronavirus, his team has been designing graphics in two languages, English and Urdu. These have received a phenomenal response on their social media channels. Furthermore, Ibrar ensured that grassroots level difficulties were also addressed. During their informal interviews about the needs of the people, their team discovered that access to food was a major problem for daily wage workers owing to the lockdowns. Since the start of the pandemic, DoctRing has distributed over 2000 ration bags containing essential food to families who were at the brink of starvation.
Delivering PPE kits and ration bags under the lockdown landscape was challenging. Their team stepped up and forged a collaboration with Cheetay, a well-known logistics and courier company in Pakistan. Collaboration is the key to running any successful venture, and this rings truer in the current scenario where philanthropy has risen as a clear winner. Workers from healthcare have been tirelessly and altruistically fighting COVID. To ensure that these uncrowned heroes aren’t fighting on an empty stomach, DoctRing collaborated with Subway to help deliver healthy sandwiches to those on the frontline.
DoctRing has garnered well-deserved recognition with numerous local news channels and print media houses approaching their team for interviews. Ibrar’s team is working to develop a mobile app to help provide continued healthcare. This application is slated to launch in a few weeks from now. It would allow users to connect with the best doctors from Pakistan and around the world for free consultations. It would be especially useful in areas where specialists aren’t available.
Ibrar’s telehealth portal was a dream he wouldn’t have realized if not for the TRP. While others failed to see the potential of this initiative, Joseph Ferenbok, TRP Director, wholly supported Ibrar. “The TRP doesn’t kill your idea, they nurture it,” said Ibrar when asked about how this impactful and arduous journey came to be. He credits the program, it’s mentors, and unique thinking to the success of DoctRing, “The TRP is the reason I pulled this off. If not for Joseph, the TRP framework, and thinking, I’d still be sleeping on this initiative.” When asked about why he believes in philanthropy to such an extent, he laughed and said, “If people are happy, I am happy. I don’t need fame or money. All I need is to know that I was able to do something meaningful with my life.”
Wish to learn more about DoctRing? Follow them on their virtual channels:
While the world actively fights a global pandemic, another more rampant and resilient pandemic has come to the fore around the world. Systemic racism and intolerance, unfortunately, are woven into the fabric of our society. In the wake of the current international landscape, a sentiment of solidarity has led to the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement. TRP student, Vida Maksimoska, stands firmly in support of those peacefully fighting this disease that has far-reaching roots in our society. In this candid blog, she shares her thoughts, views, and talks about how we can help change the status quo. She shared open-source resources to educate us on why this movement is essential and why we need to lend our voices to turn a new leaf in the history of equality.
Vida Maksimoska, TRP Student, June 2020
Standing off to the side of the crowd with my mask on, hearing the message our crowd was chanting through the streets of downtown Toronto, made me tear up a little. We were shouting – No Justice, No Peace! We were yelling Black Lives Matter! We were protesting in a pandemic. Let that sink in for a moment. It was a global pandemic and yet we needed to drive home a point.
The Black lives matter protest in Toronto reminded me that we, as a society have plenty of work to do to address the systemic racism and the racial microaggressions that we perpetuate. This message is not a new one, and the inequalities and racism black individuals’ experiences are rooted in the very laws and systems we live within. We must work to do better and be better. For instance, I must be able to acknowledge my white privilege to see why it is not okay and work to be a better ally. Together we must support this movement and be willing to learn continuously. It is imperative to hear the stories of black individuals to remind ourselves that ignorance is NOT bliss. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye when we can help be part of the ongoing solution. We need to check ourselves and remind ourselves that racism is indoctrinated and systemic.
Racism does not end in a week! Honestly, now that our social media platforms return to normal, I worry the movement will start to fade. It is a privilege to be able to take a break from posting about racism because it is too overwhelming, or because we are tired. Imagine what it must be like to be living with systemic racism and experiencing microaggressions every day.
At times like this, active listening and empathy are some of our greatest assets. We must continue to educate ourselves, learn about white privilege, listen to black voices, and help amplify them. We must not only show empathy but take tangible steps to make our society better. Being able to talk about racism with other white people, no matter how uncomfortable, is essential. These conversations probably feel like just a step, but eventually, these small steps and actions can help transform our society.
There is more we can continue to do, to keep the momentum going. Continuing attending future marches or rallies, donating money, signing petitions, contacting people in positions of power, and demanding change. I’m grateful to share this list of resources that friends Shiza and fellow science communicator Sam Yammine, helped curate. They shared these resources with me and I encourage you all to continue to research and share resources further.
So, my simple reminder for today is to check our white privilege, educate ourselves, and have uncomfortable conversations. Lastly, my main message for today is that Black lives continue to matter. Today. Tomorrow. And Always.
Resources: Black Lives Matter – Resources
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I have been mentored by amazing researchers, learned about great innovators, and have been blessed to work on some amazing projects. But I have noticed a gap between translating observation and research impact – many times projects do not make the prominent difference in society that they should. This program aims to equip a cohort of students with the skills needed to address these gaps, and I can’t wait to start learning and developing my skills.
I also love that this program takes the idea of “exploration” and runs with it, we (the student) must choose our own path – as cliche as that sounds – it is up to us to give the direction of our project and it is up to us to be curious, ask questions and work collaboratively.
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Editor: Zoya Retiwalla
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it unprecedented challenges. We, at the TRP, have adapted swiftly to ensure that the program continues to be delivered smoothly. This is a personal memoir by our Program Director Joseph Ferenbok, talking about how the TRP went virtual.
Joseph Ferenbok, TRP Program Director, May 2020
For years I have been involved in eLearning discussions, taskforces, tool development, and curriculum design. Throughout the years I have had some interesting successes and been involved in some monumental failures. I have tried many strategies of integrating technology-assisted learning into my thinking about teaching and learning.
In one of my first experiences as a teaching assistant, I ran a forum for my tutorial sessions that ended up having more than triple the number of posts than the other seven TA’s combined—and at the time, I was absolutely convinced of the power and potential of the internet as a learning tool. But then I tried to build an entire learning community online. The system that was designed had more bells and whistles than virtually any of its contemporaries—it represented a monumental achievement of coding and development for its time. The problem is that no one signed up. No one wanted to use it. It was pretty but too complex and unfocused.
Learning from that experience I tried the opposite approach—to work with people to develop technologies that supported learning objectives. But the push back, the reluctance to change even when it would mean less work and improved learning experiences forced me many times to abandon even this participatory strategy.
If there is one thing that may be seen as a positive of the COVID pandemic in the context of education and curriculum design, it might be this: it has forced people, students and instructors alike to disrupt their entrenched ways of doing things. It has forced us to try and adopt models of delivery and engagement that were inching forward because of sunk costs and established momentum. Virtually overnight everyone went to online content and delivery, and the resistance, the culture, and pressure that defends the status quo were systemically removed leading to accelerated adoption.
The COVID situation has provided conditions to experience technology-assisted learning and has forced us to rethink the pedagogy driving learning, and it is likely that this shift will leave a lasting impression on educational practices, efforts at sustainability, and the deployment of hybrid approaches to learning. At the end of the day, it was not the readiness of the technologies, nor the underlining politics or economics that created the circumstances for innovation, but the removal of cultural practices and barriers that made rapid change possible. Buy-in from people has again proved to be the most influential preexisting condition for the adoption of innovation.
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“Translation is a social good, and through Translational Thinking, we are on a mission to expedite the transformation of knowledge into health benefits for society.”
Driven to improve patient care, Joseph catapults projects forward with passion, wisdom, and a contagious chuckle. He is Co-Director of the Health Innovation Hub, a Faculty of Medicine initiative intended to connect, align, serve, and facilitate the translation, innovation, and commercialization of ‘Health Matters’.
Here at the TRP, Joseph is our inspirational Founder and Program Director. He is also a Course Director for Foundations in TR and for Methods in Practices and Contexts, and the Instructor for the Translational Thinking module.
There has been a trend over the last few years to focus on patients in healthcare. Setting aside the evident irony of the obvious necessity of including the patient in healthcare, there are some subtleties for innovation worth considering.
The first is why? Why focus on the patient? There are other ways to approach innovation. You can focus on the system or services, or products. Etc., Now many of these are by no means mutually exclusive or entirely distinct, but the approach—how you frame your problem and the space in which you are trying to problem-solve—will invariably have an influence on the processes and on your endpoints and outcomes. The mindset with which you approach a problem will guide your thinking and help determine where you end up. So if you start thinking about a healthcare problem from a systems perspective, you will be looking for systemic issues to solve and your interventions will likely involve changes to the system that will try to address the space you define. This may or may not actually impact patient care. For example, a systemic change may result in significant economic savings to the system, but these benefits may not actually be seen by patients—savings may actually be converted as profit-taking or, in the case of public systems, put into other priorities of the system.
Another important nuance is the understanding that even when the “patient” is prioritized in the process—that is, placed as the subject or beneficiary of the innovation—it does not mean that the patient is the agent of the resulting intervention. Improving patient care or the patient experience may involve other stakeholders as objects or agents of a particular innovation. Sometimes changing what a caregiver or a clinician does is by far the best way to improve the patient experience. The point here is that placing the patient at the center of translational thinking does not mean that patients are the only means to the desired state. In a patient-centered approach, however, it should mean, that patients are the end beneficiaries of the innovation, that patient care or the quality of the patient experience is included as a central measure of success for the intervention.
Since the intension of Translational Thinking is, in principle, to have tangible impact on human health, prioritizing benefits for patients as an outcome measure of the innovation process is a significant frame-of-mind for approaching the process of mobilizing knowledge for social and economic benefit.
Physical distancing mandates, though indispensable, have hampered tangible human contact for months. This pandemic has affected even those with stable neurological makeup, rendering mental health into focus. Our student, Sidhesh, who moved from India to pursue higher-education was caught in the headlights with the sudden, monumental changes that COVID-19 has brought in the world. He spoke to us about the impact that the “new normal” has brought to his life and divulged honestly into coping mechanisms hoping to help us understand that we are in this struggle together.
Sidhesh Kumar Jothilingam, TRP Student, June 2020
This pandemic has completely changed our lives – for better or for worse. While some of us are lucky enough to live our quarantine lives with family and loved ones, many international students like myself live alone. Living alone during the lockdown can affect our mental health significantly; through this blog post, I would like to share how the COVID-19 landscape affected me and how I am dealing with it.
As an introvert, during the initial days of the lockdown, I was extremely confident that I will be able to handle this situation with ease. But things across the country started to get worse, gradually as days passed by; staying indoors for weeks made me unproductive. I started overthinking and anxiety kicked in. To make things worse, I lost a couple of people who meant a lot to me, during the course of this lockdown. This added negatively to my predicament and I was left to deal with loss and grief in the solitude of my apartment.
Fortunately, I was able to recognize my deteriorating mental health and I promptly began reaching out to my close friends. Thanks to UofT’s Health and Wellness Center, I was able to connect with a Graduate Wellness Counsellor virtually and seek help. These sessions helped me a lot and a few key learnings that have positively impacted my pandemic life are:
- You cannot control all aspects of the things happening around you, but you can control how you react to these things or situations.
- Reaching out to your close friends and well-wishers when you’re having a personal crisis will help you see things from a different perspective and inherently make you feel better.
- You are (probably) not the only person experiencing or going through this, especially during these challenging times.
- Whatever crisis you’re facing right now, it won’t last forever; things will get better.
These four points form the cornerstones of my daily life. Whenever I feel distressed, I fall back on these. It may not seem like much, but reaching out and feeling gratified are mantras for sound mental health.
Apart from these key learnings, I’ve kept myself busy by listening to podcasts and audiobooks, going for physical-distancing compliant long walks, attending classes online, learning creative tools, the list goes on.
Additionally, I’m glad to be a part of the TRP Social Committee, we organize virtual events such as Trivia night, Netflix party, etc. to bring the TRP community closer during these uncertain and challenging times. These social interactions, even though virtual, have been wonderful. Human interaction and keeping in touch with the community have been my source of solace and strength.
I know you might’ve heard this a hundred times and it might sound clichéd, but just try to stay positively optimistic and fervently believe that things will get better. I’ve had enough bad days to tell you with certainty that things will always get better!
Stay safe and take care!
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Sidhesh aspires to become a med-tech entrepreneur by starting a medical devices company after the completion of this program. He hopes to dive deeper into his chosen field and convert pathbreaking solutions into finished market-ready products. His alternate career option inclines towards coming up with innovative ideas and solutions in the healthcare space.
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We all have a role in our students’ mental wellness. At the TRP, we support open conversations, please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you feeling distressed. Life is complicated and doesn’t always go as planned.
If you are in distress, we can connect you to the help you need. Talk to someone right NOW. 24/7 Emergency Counselling Services:
Good2Talk Student Helpline | 1-866-925-5454
Professional counseling, information, and referrals helpline for mental health, addictions, and students’ well-being.
My SSP for International Students | 1-844-451-9700. Outside of North America, call 001-416-380-6578. Culturally-competent mental health and counseling services in 146 languages for international student use.
For additional information, please visit Health and Wellness offered at the University of Toronto or find more information on our website