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.