The Aga Khan University (AKU) auditorium was a swirl of green and white convocation robes on Saturday as the class of 2011 prepared to take its final walk as students.
The 317 degrees had to be conferred upon students in two separate ceremonies for the Medical College and Institute for Educational Development and the School of Nursing. Four of the students walked away with doctorates – one in education and three in the health sciences.
The students trooped into the hall carrying a flag bearing the university emblem. The chief guest, president, registrar and faculty followed in their wake and Board of Trustees Chairman Ambassador Saidullah Khan Dehalvi opened the celebrations.
“Not only has AKU broken new ground in the delivery of health care and education,” said Afghanistan Acting Public Health Minister Dr Suraya Dalil, as she addressed the gathering as the chief guest, “but by combining education and health delivery it has built a synergy that has mutually reinforced both disciplines.” Dr Dalil pointed out that six of the graduates were Afghans.
In the afternoon, the 149 School of Nursing graduates filled the auditorium. AKU President Firoz Rasul emphasised the university’s efforts towards producing competent professionals with the ability to solve problems.
The graduates, young and old, were filled with a sense of accomplishment and fulfilment. Syed Javed Mehdi, a fresh Master’s in Education, is actually a grade 16 government school teacher and teaches secondary classes. His frail mother stood beside him, swathed in a black shawl but beaming with pride over her youngest son’s achievement. She had come all the way from Khairpur to see him graduate. Syed feels he learnt how to innovate and bring about change in the educational system during his time at AKU.
The PhDs, meanwhile, are exploring new research in the country. Dr Mohsin Yaqoob flew back from Johns Hopkins University to attend his convocation. He completed his doctorate in Physiology and was offered a post doctorate from Hopkins, but he definitely intends to come back to Pakistan. He said that while getting into AKU was difficult, it was not at all unaffordable.
“AKU first selects students on merit and later the fee details are [worked out],” he explained. “In case he or she cannot afford it, it is paid by the university.” This is what makes the PhD programme highly competitive and only about four of almost 90 applications are selected, he explained.
Dr Junaid Iqbal, another new PhD holder, received a 100 per cent scholarship at AKU. He was inspired by a personal incident to take up astrobiology and is researching extremophiles, parasites – a subject alien to Pakistan. Similarly, their colleague, Dr Humera Humayan is off to Japan for her post graduation after completing a PhD in Microbiology.
Raising the MBBS bar
For the MBBS students, expectations are high. Of the 95 graduates, 15 are already Medical Diplomats that licences them to work in the US after they pass their USMLE.
Standing in queue for their graduate pictures beside the university emblem, Akbar Saleh, Umar Rasheed and Umar Tariq said that they have already received calls for residencies from the US. The competitive school has driven them to be the best they can and thus most of them aim to leave the country.
Their classmate, Fatima Sadiq, wants to leave for a year-long internship followed by a residency in the US while Asif Jafferani, the best graduate, wants to specialise in cardiac electrophysiology. While there are four to five cardiac electrophysiologists in the country, training in the field is not taught in Pakistan and he would like to bring the study to students here.
Nursing is no joke
“A lot of parents think that entering nursing is the end of their child’s future but it is not so,” AKU School of Nursing Dean Dr Rozina Karam Alani told The Express Tribune.
She explained that while more and more students are opting to become nurses, the profession still suffers because of its image and its low pay. While the government has raised doctor salaries, nurses make the same amount. Meanwhile, doctors can make more money through private practices while nurses cannot.
“It cost me up to Rs30,000, including fees, accommodation and other expenses during my education,” complained Kashif, a graduate originally from Sialkot. “While when I graduate the pay is hardly Rs20,000.”
There is scope for further education and growth in nursing, however. Students can complete Masters, PhDs, and research. As far as competition is concerned, she said that Dow University of Health Sciences, Baqai, Ziauddin, and Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre are all producing very competent professionals. However, there are about 50 alumni from AKUSON in top positions in the country, she boasted.
Zara Rafiq, who received the best graduate award in nursing, said that she sees the profession in conformity to what her religion preaches – to serve the community.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2011.