Dr. Ikram Ullah Khan, Head of Dermatology Department, Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) Islamabad, is the top dermatologist in Islamabad. He was invited as a guest for the PTV News program ‘Personality of the Week’. The purpose of this program is to honor renowned personalities who have played a significant role in promoting the image of Pakistan at the national and the international levels. As a the host of ‘Personality of the Week’ program, Ms Afshan Malik interviewed Dr Ikram about his life and work and as pioneer of laser technology for the treatment of skin in Pakistan.
Interviewer: What prompted you to choose medical profession and be a doctor?
Dr. Ikram: My father, Fatehullah Khan, always wanted me to be a doctor. Initially, it was his wish that brought me to this profession. My father played a special role in shaping my views and my life in general. Indeed, I see him as a role model.
My father was an engineer by profession. He had graduated from Aligarh University during pre-partition days. He was well known in his profession and held prominent positions. One of these was the Chairman Indus River Authority. He conceptualized the construction of Chakdara Dam and had even prepared feasibility report. The proposed dam could produce 15,000 MW of electricity.
My grandfather was a doctor. In fact, my inspiration to choose medical profession comes from him.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Interviewer: Where were you born? Can you share days of your early life?
Dr. Ikram: Yes, sure. I was born in Peshawar and received my early education from Saint Mary’s School and Edward’s College. Both these institutions provided me important opportunities for quality education. They had British teachers as well on the staff. It was fortunate to study in these institutions as they provided me strong educational foundations. Afterwards, I joined Khyber Medical College and completed my MBBS.
A significant milestone in my medical education was 1986 when I went to UK for MRCP, the highest UK qualification in dermatology. I was the first MRCP in dermatology from Pakistan. Thereafter, I joined Birmingham Skin Hospital as Registrar and later as a Consultant. My 10-year stay at this hospital opened innumerable learning opportunities for my professional growth.
Birmingham Skin Hospital had the biggest laser center in Europe, equipped with latest and rare laser technology. I was lucky to have an exposure to all these technological devices, study multiple skin diseases and see various types of patients amongst world’s best dermatologists and skin specialists.
During the days of my stay at Birmingham, laser technology was still in its infancy and far from perfection. One of the problems, for instance, was that while removing tattoos from face, lasers removed the hair also from the surrounding area of the face. Anyway, my time spent at UK was marked by great experience and memories of a lasting relationship with my patients which I cherish to this day.
Following the desire of my father, I came back to Pakistan in 1996 and joined PIMS. My mission was to promote better ways of skin treatment in Pakistan. In fact, it was my father who encouraged me to establish the first laser technology center in Pakistan.
DECIDING TO BECOME THE BEST DERMATOLOGIST
Interviewer: What inspired you to choose dermatology as your area of specialization?
Dr. Ikram: This was also my father’s vision and I personally also found it to be highly exciting and challenging. One important point about dermatology that developed my passion to become the best skin specialist is that it simultaneously provides an opportunity to excel in three critical areas of medicine: Clinical, Surgical, and Pathological. As a surgeon, for instance, I deal with skin tumor, grafting etc. In the area of skin pathology, I conduct biopsies to investigate a disease, while clinical practice allows me to use my diagnostic skills instead of relying more on machines.
CHALLENGES OF INTRODUCING LASER SKIN TREATMENT IN PAKISTAN
Interviewer: Can you please share your experience of introducing laser treatment in Pakistan as the best dermatologist in Islamabad? How do you see the response of your patients?
Dr. Ikram: When I introduced it in Pakistan, people had many reservations and apprehensions about laser treatment. That reminds me of an interesting incident when a patient visited my clinic. During the clinical examination, I had to switch on/off some common lights. As I switched off a light finally, my patient reacted with a surprise, “Is the laser treatment over?”
Seeing the above situation, I had to educate people about the use of laser in dermatology through seminars, publications, and media. Ignorance about laser treatment in public has really been a challenge in the beginning. It was important for people to know that laser treatment is, in fact a great breakthrough in the history of medical treatment. This technology has turned impossibilities into hope and possibilities. It is important to mention here that laser devices are capable of reversing and eradicating heredity and genetic skin conditions also. (Click here to learn more about introduction of Laser Technology in Pakistan).
LASER TECHNOLOGY EXPLAINED
Interviewer: You have talked about revolutionary role of laser technology in skin treatment. Can you please elaborate what, in fact, laser technology is?
Dr. Ikram: Laser is basically a light that targets specific areas of skin to be treated: It is a target-specific treatment that focuses only on the selected body part. Precision and accuracy are the chief characteristics that make laser distinctive. It can selectively destroy a single hair without damaging or affecting the surrounding structure/body area: No collateral damage is done. To compare it with conventional treatment, for instance, a hot needle may destroy a hair but it can also damage or deaden the surrounding area. The good point about laser light is that if it doesn’t hit the selected target, it comes backwards.
This revolutionary quality of laser makes it an ideal treatment of an apparently awful and extremely frustrating skin disease. One, that typically affects half of the face or arm that turns the affected part into a mass of reddish hanging flesh. Such patients normally isolate themselves. Now, targeted laser treatment gives them a new life by completely rehabilitating the patient’s affected part back to its original shape. On an average, 3-4 such patients visit my clinic every month.
Owing to its high treatment cost, some people advised me against importing the specific laser machine for this treatment. They thought such a costly machine would not be cost effective in Pakistan. But I can look beyond. To me it is cost effective as long as it treats the patients and rehabilitates them back to their social life. It is very disappointing to note that no other skin clinic is equipped with this machine.
SKIN AILMENTS IN PAKISTAN
Interviewer: It’s encouraging to see your vision to serve humanity. May Allah bless others with the same passion so that such complicated skin diseases may be eliminated from society. Can you please tell us about some of the most common skin ailments in Pakistan you encounter as the best dermatologist?
Dr. Ikram: Yes, there’re some skin diseases that are particularly challenging to Pakistani people. Scabies is a common infectious disease in Pakistan that is mostly caused by unhygienic living conditions. It’s highly communicable and usually spreads in schools and such crowded places. Eczema, dryness of skin, skin allergies are also quite frequent. Pigmentation and freckles are particularly common in women. A skin disease cause by mosquitos is also common, particularly in KPK province. Rare cases of skin cancer (4-5 per year) are also noticed in Pakistan, whereas the frequency of such such cases in the UK during my stay had been very high.
THE STATE OF DERMATOTLGOY IN PAKISTAN
Interviewer: How many doctors have completed post-graduate qualifications in dermatology at PIMS during your stay? Did you find aspiring skin specialists who wish to become best and top dermatologists.
Dr. Ikram: During my stay at PIMS, I took initiative in introducing FCPS, MCPS, and MD in Dermatology here and got them affiliated with Quaid-e-Azam University and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Universities. Besides this, I used personal resources to establish dermatological facilities at PIMS. It is indeed a pride for PIMS that about 30-40 doctors have completed postgraduate qualifications and are serving inside and outside Pakistan, including Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
OTHER INTERESTS, LOVE OF ART AND ANTIQUES
Interviewer: Can you share some of your leisure activities? How do you spend spare time?
Dr Ikram: Most of my spare time is occupied by reading materials related to my field which helps in maintaining my reputation as the best skin specialist in Islamabad. I’m much interested in antiques also: I inherited this from my father. He used to bring such items and had a good collection. In my spare time, I take special care in cleaning and preserving all these antiques.
Interviewer: If you were not a doctor, what other role did you see for yourself?
Dr. Ikram: Oh, I really never thought about it: I would not have been any thing else. I think I was destined to be a doctor.
Interviewer: Do you have any interest in literature?
Dr. Ikram: Not really. I rarely listen to TV or songs. To relax, I like watching cartoons sometimes.
Interviewer: Any unforgettable incident of your life?
Dr. Ikram: There have been a number of them at different times. One of the most recent had been my father’s death. I had been closely attached to my father and he’s been a part of my memory throughout. He died two years back and I miss him a lot: I frequently see him in dreams.
Sometimes world seems meaningless without my father – even as the best dermatologist in Islamabad. He was an energetic person and worked on his laptop until the end of his life. My father’s death brought me closer to the realities of our physical and material life that is, of course transitory. The reflection process led me to a better understanding of the enigma of life: I fact, all material things and gains are an illusion. These are transitory and short-lived.
FAMILY AND CHILDERN
Interviewer? Do you have any other sibling in medical profession?
Dr. Ikram: One of my brothers is a doctor, but, practically he is doing a business now.
Interviewer: How many children do you have?
Dr. Ikram: I have two children…I married late, as is common with doctors.
Interviewer: Do you see your children growing as doctors in the future?
Dr. Ikram: Yes, I want both, my son and the daughter, to be doctors.
Interviewer: What more do you plan to achieve in dermatology?
Dr. Ikram: I intend to establish a proper well-equipped Skin Institute at PIMS for those doctors who aim to become top skin specialists and best dermatologists. With a rich experience in this field, I’m confidant I can establish a world-class dermatological institute in Pakistan.
HONOURS AND AWARDS
Interviewer: I and sure, as the best dermatologist in Islamabad, you must have earned national and international awards. Please tell us something about your honors and awards?
Dr. Ikram: I’ve been awarded the title of Honorary Commander by Pakistan Navy and I’m also a Consultant to Pakistan Navy. Currently, I’m the personal dermatologist to the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
I’ve also given presentations at several international conferences and workshops. Since my long stay in the UK, I enjoy a special recognition there. I used to have once a month meeting in London on regular basis. To name a few: I was co-chairman organizing committee at the 10th Annual Conference of Dermatology held in Pakistan in Sep 2003, I am a certified member of Midland Dermatological Society, I have a certificate of competence issued by Laser Care Birmingham London and many certificates of attendance and participation in training workshops, seminars and conferences like the 3rd 5 Continents Congress for Lasers & Aesthetic Medicines, Cannes, France, and similar others in UK, Germany and Canada.
Interviewer: Thanks for sparing time and sharing important information and your views not only as a doctor but as a good human being also.
Dr. Ikram: Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share my views.