a piece of advice for all house officers and medical interns

As I read a post where a young medical graduate was reconsidering doing her house job/internship/foundation year 1, I time-traveled to when I was starting my own.

Even though I had it figured out during med school that my interest lay more towards public health and not so much towards clinical medicine (despite enjoying the short procedures and being pretty hands-on with them), whether or not I wanted to pursue a house job was a question that I answered with a yes simply to keep my options open. As it happens with every decision we make, I now look back and see why it was a good decision, but not for the reason I had initially thought of.

The first year of working as a doctor is called a “house job” in Pakistan, “Foundation Year 1” in the UK, and “Intern Year” in the US. Irrespective of the name, it represents one of the most important years of a doctor’s life where you learn a lot more than just clinical skills.

It is a period of intense character and personality building.

You learn survival skills—not only the practical ones but also the emotional ones. You learn how to deal with workplace toxicity and bullying. You learn diplomacy and assertiveness. You learn how to read faces. You learn the art of healthy communication, you learn the importance of interpersonal skills. You learn empathy and you learn how to make tough decisions under pressure. You will learn how to be kind – to yourself, your patients, your colleagues, and anyone else who deserves that kindness – when it is really the last thing that you want to do.

Setting healthy boundaries, conflict resolution, crisis management, effective communication, empathetic counseling, and leadership (which includes focusing on the bigger picture) are just a few of the skills that will take you a long way, both in your professional and personal lives.

Most of all, you learn all the things you SHOULDN’T be doing ever, be it personal or professional. And if you’re wise, you will also use that time to groom your emotional intelligence, a far stronger determinant of success than your IQ.

House job was all of that for me.

But as you learn all of that, you will also learn that having healthy coping mechanisms and maybe professional support for your own mental health is as important for your family and your patients as it is for you. You don’t want to drive away your sincerest friends because of your professional burdens. Invest in having a strong support system like you would invest in your medical training. Because on the days the hospital haunts you and the stench of chlorine makes you nauseous, you will want a confidante who will believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself.

To all the people currently doing, starting, or about to start their house jobs, FY1, or internship years – make the most of it. Not every bad situation is entirely bad. Sometimes, a little change of perspective works wonders! Let this be a springboard for you to explore what you want to specialize in. Let this be an opportunity for you to discover who you really are. Let this be a better assessment of where your individual strengths and weaknesses lie. Let this be a classroom that also teaches you what kind of doctor you DO NOT want to be. Let this be the place where you find mentors and friends. Let this be the place where you find yourself!

an army of my own

3:56 PM | 18 May 2022

Battered and tired, alienated and all that. Then in the middle of chaos, you find His light and you wonder if this is how God speaks to us. This blog is just a small space where my thoughts become digital emissionaries of faith and happiness. But it’s within the hustling chaos that I’m reminded again of how human life is fragile, how every little thing is not meaningless, and how insignificance is not without reason.

Every time I wonder why this blog exists, why Walking Thoughts is still around, I get beautiful answers from the people who make this place what it is. Words of appreciation and encouragement and requests to post more often, lovely duas by readers who have loved this blog and thank-yous by students who speak with confidence – all together in the middle of chaos. And then comes the big bang, my Big Bang – that very wonderful piece of news that lights up the vision I’ve been holding on to – an academic scholarship that empowers me to learn how to make healthcare better for the healthcare providers, how to give compassionate care, how to really curate humanistic health policies. A small happy firework celebrating the vision of helping healers become better healers, helping healers heal – a vision smiled upon indulgently, a formality we grace all fancy things with. But it’s enough because it came at the perfect time. It’s enough because when I see how my readers and my students and my vision come together, the absence and loss of all things big and small fade away to make way for the kind of magic I’ve always wanted.

And maybe this is what my dear friend meant when she said I have an army of my own, fighting all my battles, holding me up, again and again!

a conversation between the beginning and end of two hopes

9:05 PM | 10 April 2022

If anyone had ever told me that threading beads into a rosary would be so hard, I’d have laughed at them. And here I am – gazing up at the moon, hoping the constellations will align themselves and starmap all that is to happen as our pretty little earth circumambulates around the sun and wipes off the mirror so I can truly see – for the first time, maybe – how there are so many favorites that have changed. Favorite poem, favorite book, favorite song, favorite this and favorite that.

If anyone had ever told me that I’d slowly grow to despise the same words that had once caught my breath, I’d have laughed at them. But adulthood has lifted off the tapestry of innocence and naivety, and I see those sad stories and sad poems as a sad signpost of a sad prison, the curves of the sentences speaking less of devotion and more of unsuspecting revenge. So no longer do I wonder why the writer wrote such a sad story. “I hope you heal,” I say. And I move on to the gratitude frolicking around me, with the wordsmiths of hope and sunshine and gentle strength and kindness.

And, thus, ends a conversation between the beginning and end of two hopes, the birth and death of two galaxies.


26 March 2022

Last-minute, thrice-changed plans and two cars full of giggling adults and a couple of teens. Insta-worthy pictures and warm, flavourful food over stories of new beginnings. Jamming to Coke Studio’s Go and Pasoori with a quickly put-together dessert of chocolate ice cream and brownies as mispronounced song names had us rolling with laughter. A couple of ‘have-you-left-s’ and more ‘have-you-reached-home-s’. Jokes only we understand and memories only we need. There’s something so warm and so familiar about the bond we share. Something that makes you almost remember and almost forget the non-existent parallel universe and its infuriating mysteries. And then you have a heart full of gratitude and a house full of love and a family of lovely eccentricities.

helping and healing and healing and helping

I don’t really believe in coincidences, you know? I don’t really think it was a coincidence that I launched Walking Thoughts. I don’t really think it was a coincidence that I got my first students real quick. I certainly don’t think it was a coincidence that fate drove me past the end, through the tunnel, and to this, this message attached as a small testament to the return of my faith in what I’m doing. It’s not easy and it is difficult – my time encapsulated within the one thousand, four hundred and forty minutes that make the earthly days. It’s not easy and it is difficult – my hands jotting down notes and ticking off lists. But it is happening and it is the truth and it is the springtime in the home I’m building and so I’m happy and truly grateful and also a little incredulous to be strolling with my Walking Thoughts.

Teaching and writing, teaching writing, helping people grow and rediscover themselves, letting them see the mirror.

Back in 2018 when I launched Walking Thoughts, I didn’t really think I’d make it this far. I didn’t think any of my students would see me as more than a teacher or as their go-to person for non-academic concerns, or as their support system when disappointments or bumps hit their way. But they do. And that tells me that there must be a purpose behind all of God’s plans and all the days gone by and all that is to come. And so I must hang in there. And so YOU (all of you reading this) must hang in there.

Hang in there, y’all!

I walk my days with surprising calmness, loving sunrises, and ignoring the sunsets

9:00 PM | 10 March 2022

Sitting in the lecture hall today, I realized how wrong I was about so many things and how blessed, too. The microscopic lens I was faltering with had been estranged from the magnitude of blessings that were the answer to prayers that I had mistaken to be too big, too unreal. But because God is the real Superhero, everything is possible.

The eternities and the forevers are all in here, in this moment, when God makes sure I live and love one dream. A dream about me. A dream about Eve. A dream about a vision. A dream about helping the helpers, “doctoring the doctors”. A reminder that life is fragile and we are mortals and trust is sacred and kindness is rare and hope is a reward and faith is a gift and God is fair and just.

And now I walk my days with surprising calmness, loving sunrises, and ignoring the sunsets because who has time for gloominess and cacophonies and all that?

University Centre Building. Aga Khan University

Stardust speaking to you through a sandstorm, happiness becomes Happiness. And it’s right here, finally, for good.

4:50 PM | 6 March 2022

And it is the first drop of rain on a bed of crinkled grass and it is the end of the school exams and the acceptance letter to your dream university and the shiny notification of your new job and friends sharing a sunset by the sea and hearts holding destinies and eyes beholding undiscovered galaxies and the first sip of water after the first verse of the Maghreb azaan* on the first of Ramadan** and excited eyes and a kind heart and no make-believe smiles and happy words like happy songs and prayers answered like a golden wish and a heart that dances with peaceful gratitude and the bright flowers on the kitchen table and giving up old favorites for new ones and being you and the silence after questions unanswered and the gift you buy yourself and the new home you’ve built and the new dreams you wove with the sunrise and the doors that are no longer and a sky that is purple and time that does wonders and miracles that are yours and hugs that are God’s. 

Stardust speaking to you through a sandstorm, happiness becomes Happiness. And it’s right here, finally, for good.

*evening prayer
** the Islamic month for fasting

dew drops after heavy rain and moonlight in the windy desert.

7:42 PM | 1 March 2022

Surviving one wave after another, we all have lived immeasurable emotions ever since the pandemic hit us. Flung into the abyss of uncertainty, it’s a miracle that we’ve come from calculated risks to having to thank science (and God) for where we are.

It’s been two years since that.

Faith outshone darkness, pessimism a word half-forgotten, it’s all about gratitude now. Grateful for being able to ikigai, for being able to find a direction, for flying with passion about something that is turning into my everything. It is happiness unmatched, confidence unrivaled, a vision that enables me to be of service in unconventional ways – be it Walking Thoughts, my literary start-up; AHHF, my volunteer project; or the postgrad degree that pushes me a step forward towards building a better working environment in the healthcare ecosystem; or simply for being able to find happiness and peace in all and everything, like dewdrops after heavy rain and moonlight in the windy desert.

And which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?” (Surah Ar Rehman 55:13)
None, ever again.

Little things are never little. But the big things usually are.

It all lies in making the small things big. In holding on to a favorite childhood memory. In reminding yourself of how the bad turned good and how God dismantled it all before setting it straight. It all lies in making the little joys big. Like your favorite breakfast. Like the serenity of a cup of well-brewed coffee. Like the gooeyness of the fudge brownie, the cheesiness of your pizza. In the chords of a song that brings you peace. In the comfort of a happy dream. In having your family, in having your health.

Little things are never little. But the big things usually are.

Mindfulness? Maybe.

Our thoughts often play a melody that aches to be part of the song being played over in our future and watch us do our thing. What jobs do we have? Which country are we in? Does KFC still light up our day? Are Oreos still comfort food?

But we can’t know for sure. Unless, of course, we get that very rare gift. The one where we have this inexplicable feeling of how the sky will be a particular shade of blue one summer morning. That’s just how we know some things for sure and the rest is lost in a blur of uncertainties and faith dancing together to the days ticking by.

But the only thing certain is the now. The present. Today. That Allah’s Mercy and Plans are always bigger and better than us. That qadr* exists and our rizq** is written.

“The pens have been lifted and the ink has dried”. (At-Tirmidhi, 2516)

So while we don’t know if the future us will still fancy the same food we do now, I sure hope that we’ll continue to choose the present over losing moments and memories in anticipation of the unknown. It’s hard. Harder than anything we’ll all ever do. But it’ll make the journey easier, happier, worthwhile.

As long as we’re together.

** provision