Henna Qureshi is a Pakistani American Pediatrician that is always ready to pack her bags and help others in need. This quality was not only an effect of how she was raised but also the community that she is a part of.
I was born and raised in Bradford Pennsylvania, it’s a very small town in North West Pennsylvania, about a population of 6000. I grew up born and raised there until I moved here, in the Washington DC area for college. So, we were one of the very few Pakistanis in that region, probably one of the few minorities actually, it’s starting to get a little bit more diverse now though. We were stationed there because my father and mother are both physicians, and they were here on a visa. They were moved there for location purposes but they fell in love with the city, and I grew up there. My experience was actually rather incredible, unfortunately, I hear a lot of horror stories from minorities growing up in small towns, but I think of that town, as actually what made me who I am now, it is a very welcoming town, very interested in learning about other cultures, embraces ethnicity, celebrates each other. So I really enjoyed growing up there, I never, thankfully experienced any sort of racism growing up. Only, actually, until I moved to the big cities, did I experience what we kind of hear about happening in small towns.
I went to George Washington University here in DC, and I was a Spanish Literature major. So I learned Spanish actually in my freshman year, I took French in high school, but I was for some reason very intrigued by the language and the culture of Spanish. And soo I started from Spanish 1 and then graduated with the major. I was their first attempt at doing this, so it was very interesting, I had a lot of classes with people who were very fluent, but I had a quick learning curve, and I took a lot of Spanish over the summer, so I was able to graduate with a degree.
I think initially I thought I was going to do International affairs. My parents, I think they were always a little bit like, “you who would make a great doctor”, but then it was also, “you would make a great whatever”, and so they didn’t really push me either which way. Especially because they saw my brother was taking a very interesting path with his career through the military. And so they were actually surprisingly encouraging. I think they were excited and very happy that I chose medicine in the long run, but I think they were happier that I chose medicine for the reasons that I chose it, as opposed to just because they did it.
So my first medical mission was actually when I was in medical school, I went with an organization called AAPPNA (American Association of Pakistani Physicians in North America), we went to Kashmir and provided Earthquake relief. That was a very interesting experience, since I actually got to go with my father, and that was the first time I got to participate in medical care. That was in my last year of medical school, and clinically it was not very helpful, but it really encouraged me to pursue global health, especially once I had better training and background. Through Residency, I did a lot of work with Operation Smile which repairs Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate, I went with them as a resident and did pre and post-operative care of those surgeries that the surgeons had done there, abroad.
With the organization that I volunteer with, called MedGlobal, we partnered with an amazing hospital called Indus Hospital. It’s an entirely charitable hospital, so entirely run for free for the patients, and runs on donations. So we provided some training there, helping babies breathe, which is a neonatal resuscitation program, ultrasound programs or point of care ultrasound, and empathy training, which was something new and exciting for the Indus Hospital Staff. A lot of what we do here in the US, sometimes vary a little bit from standard clinical training, they focus a little bit more on bedside manner and how to show compassionate care. The physicians in Pakistan are obviously very compassionate but we sort of have a structured curriculum on how to teach empathy to physicians and healthcare professionals.
I think that it’s very interesting. I’ve been able to travel to many different countries, I think that the way that I was raised, I am very grateful for, because my parents made sure that I was very faith-based but very empowered. Which to me is very true of Islam anyway, they pulled from role models in Islam that are very empowered women, and so I didn’t have that much fear. I think people that do this sort of work, perhaps don’t have that sort of fear. Maybe you almost think that people like myself are sort of reckless since I’m always ready to sign up for a mission in Yemen or Gaza or anywhere. That stuff doesn’t worry me though, because there are people that are truly living this, and I’m not experiencing the day-to-day, but I have a service that I can provide.
I think as reception, the way I am received as a Muslim woman, sometimes it takes some navigating, I think that I have no problem respecting cultural assumptions, I can navigate that space well, but I think people are usually surprised. Usually, in a positive way, I have personally felt that the perception of a Muslim woman in a position such as a physician or a health care provider is usually well-received. It’s very sweet for me, especially in pediatrics, for me to hear that a lot of the little kids want to go into medicine or they want to become a doctor, and I can somehow be a role model in that regard.
The advice that I would give my younger self is that the journey is already been written. I think I always stressed about how will God get me to where I am trying to be. And I still feel that anxiety, like how will I get to be able to do the type of work that really makes an impact and every time something like this, an opportunity opens up, and I realize that God is just writing my story, and I just have to be patient.