— WASHINGTON, D.C.
Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Gold Star father Khizr Khan, now popular on the speaker circuit as a civil rights activist, keynoted the recent annual retreat of Desi Physician Moms (DPM) of US/Canada, addressing more than 100 female physicians from across the country on a range of issues from health care to human rights and immigration to physician women's work/life balance.
The conference, which was held Nov. 9-12 at the Georgetown Suites Hotel, also featured Murthy's wife, Dr. Alice Chen, physician advocate and executive director of Doctors of America, which she founded with her husband more than a decade ago.
"In the midst of uncertainty in immigration for doctors, health care, and respect for women, especially desi women in America, we have witnessed countless acts of courage, kindness, and embracing with education those ideologies which threaten us," said DPM and DPM Foundation founder Dr. Vidya Bansal, a Nashville, Tennessee pediatrician, in her welcoming remarks.
"We never imagined our small children, our patients, and even our colleagues asking us when we are going to be deported, in a nation which guarantees equal and inalienable rights for all Americans. These undertones are the basis for our topic today," she said.
DPM and the DPM Foundation is a federal not-for-profit organization founded by Bansal, to primarily serve South Asian victims of domestic violence. It currently represents more than 6,000 members mostly of Indian and Pakistani descent.
Murthy and Chen discussed gun violence in America as a public health issue, and specifically pertaining to "mental health" issues often blamed for gun violence. They said, in fact, most of America's mental health patients do not engage in violence. They pointed to statistics showing that mental health patients who resort to gun violence more commonly resort to suicide, not homicide.
The husband-and-wife physician team also discussed wellness versus physician burnout and gave specific examples of their own family life with their young son and a daughter they're expecting in the spring. Chen said it was challenging to be a female physician always needing to find time for one's self. The physician mother said there is a "natural drive to always be on the go."
Murthy stressed attention to one's own needs. "Physicians are outwardly focused on caring for patients, children, spouse, that they don't have time to think about themselves. We have to find ways to nourish our souls and integrate it in our work," he said. "It's not easy to take care of yourself but use transition times and look for small ways like listening to podcasts during grocery shopping, five minutes to breathe before getting out of the car, 15 seconds pause to yourself in between patients."
Both physicians urged DPM members to "be advocates for patients and physicians" with local elected officials regardless of political affiliation, and to work toward fighting against "corporate America from taking over the art of medicine at the grass-roots level in the doctor/patient relationship in the exam room."
Chen said elected officials and their aides are not aware of what goes on in physicians' daily lives. She said they do want to hear from doctors "and do pay attention when they get several calls on the same day on a particular issue."
Murthy said the most important component needed to create change in the U.S. "are the tools that you already have within — your ability to listen, your ability to express compassion, your ability to lead with love. We don't talk about love these days but love is the oldest medicine and the greatest source of healing. We cannot have love for country without the love for people who inhabit that country. Love is the most powerful force we have to bring a change. All of you have the ability to lead with love, it can transform not only your life, but lives of people around you and transform a nation and the world as well."
Khan, a native of Pakistan, called immigrant doctors "a very respected group," noting that a recent survey of 3,300 counties in the U.S. revealed that even in the poorest counties, 42 percent of all medical services are provided by immigrant physicians and immigrant medical staff. "We just have not spoken loudly about that," he said.
Bansal noted that Khan, a lawyer, has been a longtime advocate for aid to the homeless — a practice he instilled in his sons. One of his sons, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in the Iraq War in 2004. Khan came into the spotlight at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 when the Muslim- American denounced GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump, challenging him to read the U.S. Constitution.
Bansal told attendees at the Washington event that Khan has been a strong advocate for desi women and has testified repeatedly on behalf of those who had become victims of domestic abuse. Domestic violence, she said, formed the basis for the DPM Foundation, "to serve desi women who are victims."
Speaking about the significant role that women played in the recent state and local elections in Virginia, where women were victorious in record numbers, Khan said: "Women stood in the rain, they stood, they were not giving up, they were not leaving it behind, they all came and look at the different state they made, and the whole nation is proud of Virginia. This time has chosen our women to make the difference, and they are making the difference," he said.
Citing examples of the African-American, Jewish- American, and Irish-American communities and their historical struggles for civil rights in America, Khan said, "Strength doesn't come by sitting quiet at home and watching all what is taking place. No, you must stand up you must speak. This is the Muslim-Americans' turn to face the difficulty and harassment, but the amount of enthusiasm and coming together and building our voices is amazing throughout the nation."
When asked by Bansal about the administration's efforts to enforce a travel ban from Muslim-majority nations, Khan retrieved a copy of the Declaration of Independence from his coat pocket and read Grievance Number 7, reminding the audience that "we are complaining to the king in one of our founding documents that he is obstructing immigration to the U.S." He added: "It did not refer to white immigration, but immigration."
Khan said, however, he believed the current environment of racism, bigotry and xenophobia is temporary. Peace will prevail," he said.
'We have to find ways to nourish our souls and integrate it in our work' – Dr. Vivek Murthy