Lives of the fellows

Muhammad Naseemullah

b.15 August 1943 d.12 January 2015
BSc Nishtar(1964) MB BS(1967) MRCP(1973) FRCP(1989) FCPS(1993) FRCP Edin(1999)

Muhammad Naseemullah (‘Naseem’) was dean and principal of the Islamabad Medical and Dental College, Pakistan. He was born in Multan in undivided India, the son of Muhammad Ziaullah and Shaista Khatoon Ziaullah. As a result of his father’s job as a civil servant and the family’s numerous postings across Punjab, they found themselves on the ‘wrong’ side of the border at the time of Partition. One of Naseem's earliest memories was crossing the border with his family, aged four, on his father's shoulders and with their few possessions. This early exposure to poverty marked him for life and made him forever grateful to his parents for financially supporting him through his undergraduate and postgraduate medical education.

Naseem was initially educated at Government College, Lahore, graduating in the first division in science, with Arabic as an additional subject. He studied medicine at Nishtar Medical College in Multan, graduating with a BSc in 1964 and qualifying MB BS in 1967. Following house jobs and a registrarship at Nishtar, he proceeded to England to study for his MRCP.

Naseem spent five years in England, working at various hospitals in Ipswich and London. In that time he grew to love the English countryside, the political institutions and the sense of humour; he developed a fondness for comedies and comedians that he retained throughout his life. He also enjoyed the seaside and recalled his enjoyment in studying for part one on the beach in Lowestoft. Naseem emerged with his MRCP in 1973 and then spent a year as a registrar in medicine. He also undertook a year-long postgraduate course in cardiology at the London Hospital, which formulated a life-long interest.

Naseem’s patriotism, gratitude to his family and dedication to the development of medical education in Pakistan led him to return to the country in 1974 and he went back to Multan and Nishtar Hospital, where he was successively appointed as a senior registrar, assistant professor and associate professor. During this time he co-wrote Medical emergencies: diagnosis and treatment with Abdul Rauf, published in Pakistan in 1976. He then moved to Rawalpindi (and Islamabad), where he was appointed professor of medicine at Rawalpindi Medical College (RMC) and subsequently dean and chief executive of RMC and its three teaching hospitals – Holy Family Hospital, Benazir Bhutto Hospital and District Headquarters Hospital. After retirement from RMC in 2003, he worked at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Pakistan (CPSP), before being recruited as dean and principal at the Islamabad Medical and Dental College (IMDC) in 2009, where he worked until his death. During his tenure at IMDC, a place he was both extremely passionate about and very proud of, the college flourished. It was able to attract a high calibre of faculty, many of whom joined specifically to work with him. IMDC also increased markedly in size and improved in terms of the quality of students it was able to admit.

Naseem was awarded an FRCP in 1989, the FCPS (Pakistan) in 1993 and an FRCP (Edinburgh) in 1999. He was highly respected amongst the medical community in Pakistan and was proud of his role as the longest-serving medical examiner in medicine for the CPSP and as chief convener of examinations. He worked hard to raise the standard of medical education, and he was often invited to inspect medical colleges across Pakistan and around Asia. He was also an entertaining speaker, often called on to chair sessions at conferences, open events or make presentations. He was also very popular with his peers and was invited to regular dinners organised by fellow graduates of Nishtar.

Naseem considered himself to have two specialties – practising medicine, with a special interest in hypertension and diabetes, and teaching medical students and postgraduates. He was always proud of the many students who returned to tell him of their successful medical careers across the world, after his guidance through the MRCP and FCPS exams.

A quiet and unassuming man in his personal life, he was an exciting and engaging teacher, liberally sprinkling his teaching with anecdotes, quotes from poets and that British-influenced sense of humour! He also spoke Arabic, Persian, Urdu and perfect English, and read in all those languages constantly and eclectically, and many students and colleagues recalled being given volumes of Iqbal, Faiz and Ghalib, his favourite poets.

Naseem felt his responsibility to maintain the standards in medicine he had received, particularly while in England, and he never stopped educating both himself and his students. He would have been surprised and proud to learn how many doctors, now in senior positions across the country, attribute their knowledge of medicine and ethical standards to his teaching. A very popular teacher, his funeral was attended by hundreds of his current and former students, as well as faculty colleagues, which would have astonished and humbled him. He would have been even more shocked to discover that the Prime Minister of Pakistan responded to requests by many of his colleagues and agreed to name a road in his honour in Islamabad, the city he grew to love.

He was also a charitable man, acutely aware of the poverty that surrounded him, and he actively sought to help those in need. He took a personal interest in a number of local charities, particularly the Leprosy Hospital and St Joseph’s Hospice, and frequently waived his fees for patients who were unable to pay. He also expanded the community medicine department of IMDC, encouraging students to donate their medical expertise to the villages that surrounded the college campus.

Naseem died following a myocardial infarction, in Islamabad, Pakistan. He had a razor-sharp wit, and one of the many obituaries published in the Pakistani press after Naseem’s death described him as ‘the sixth best doctor in Pakistan’. One can imagine, upon hearing this, he would have asked, with a twinkle in his eye, ‘and who are the other five?’ He was survived by his wife, Jenny (née Barger), a general practitioner in Islamabad, his son Dann and his daughter Sophie.

Dr Jenny Naseem Barger
Sophie Naseemullah
Jesse Alter

(Volume XII, page web)

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