- By Dr. Sara Khurram and Makkiya Jawed
“Maybe my husband would have been alive had it not been for the distance…” says Sajida Bibi. Life has been tough for Sajida, a widow with 9 children in a rural community in the North of Pakistan. A lack of proper medical treatment after a snakebite cost her husband his life. At the same time, she fears losing her 9th-born child to asthma. She has to travel for 5 hours to get to a healthcare facility to get her child nebulized, so she does not go often. After a complicated home birth, her health and her financial condition add to her stress. This is not the story of just one woman.
In Pakistan, being a female doctor is an act of pride, a symbol of nobleness, and a career that holds value and respect in society. While the majority of graduates of medical college every year are in fact women, after completing their education many women are expected to (and some are forced) to put their careers on hold in order to pursue a family life. Pakistani culture and society want women to play the role of home makers. Therefore, many female doctors are doctors merely in name, but not in practice.
The story of Dr. Sara Khurram, one of the three Co-founders of doctHERs, resonates closely with the general female doctor’s experience in Pakistan. Today Dr. Sara (photo top, with daughter Anaaya) is accomplished and successful, but she faced several trials earlier in her professional life, including her pregnancy, which nearly forced her out of her career. Pregnancy should be a time of joy for a woman and her family, but Dr. Sara was asked to choose between continuing her work in the field of Radiology and having a baby. Unfortunately, numerous women in Pakistan are forced to choose between a personal and professional life.
Hence came about doctHERs. Dr. Sara decided to forego what society had for so long enforced in terms of the role of women and instead emerged as a leading entrepreneur, founding doctHERs, an organization that connects female doctors to millions of underserved patients using technology. Dr. Sara says, "I like to remind [doctors] that in life one is always making choices and decisions. When I hear people ask, 'Can women have it all?' I consider it specious. No one can or even really wants it 'all' – who really wants every dessert on the menu? We all make choices every day about what suits us and what works best for us. With work, help, and luck most professional women can achieve what they want, both personally and professionally. Every woman has to define success in her own way.”
In Pakistan, poor families with limited resources often favor men and boys. This gender disparity is evident even when considering access to education and health, where girls and women are often neglected. An immeasurable number of female lives in Pakistan are affected on a daily basis due to this lack of access to proper healthcare. doctHERs™ seeks to address this gender gap through the provision of socially and culturally appropriate clinical care. As an all-women provider network, the organization directly serves women’s preference to be examined by female physicians, while also catering to marginalized groups in rural populations in need of basic health care.
doctHERs™ also improves access to healthcare through remote and technology-enabled services. Nurses and paramedics conduct assisted video consultations, which enable patients to receive a comprehensive, diagnostic medical exam. They can also digitally prescribe medicine, which is dispensed in the clinic by a nurse/paramedic.
Through the vision and support of Dr. Sara Khurram’s mentors and Co-founders, Dr. Asher Hasan (photo left) and Dr. Iffat Zafar (photo above right, with daughter Zainab), doctHERs has bridged the gap between female doctors falling out of the work force and marginalized populations that lack access to quality health care. Dr. Hasan’s vision of digitized affordable health care for all has helped doctHERs bring technology to the forefront of their operations. Dr. Khurram and Dr. Zafar’s shared experiences of having to choose between their children and their careers has strengthened their resolve in training female doctors in Pakistan as leaders in the mission to bring greater healthcare to the poor. doctHERs aims to change the face of the healthcare industry by treating everyone equally through a network of doctors who dream of having both a career and personal life.