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In Thailand, Professor Encounters Spirited Approaches to Health Care

Hira Shafeeq ’09Pharm.D.

Hira Shafeeq ’09Pharm.D. traveled more than 8,000 miles to better serve her patients and students at home. This past summer, Dr. Shafeeq, an Assistant Professor in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, received a grant from St. John’s University to study the health system in Thailand.

The trip was made possible by the Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE), an organization that offers exchange programs to students and faculty around the world. The International Faculty Development Seminar in which Dr. Shafeeg participated was organized by CIEE in collaboration with the Faculty of Public Health at Khon Kaen University.

Dr. Shafeeq said she looks forward to bringing what she learned to the classroom. “I’ve always been interested in healthcare globalization,” she observed.  “Pharmacy students need a global perspective. They have to think outside the box in order to tackle public health challenges.” Providing students with that mindset is precisely why she applied for the program.

“It was incredible,” said Dr. Shafeeq. At Khon Kaen University, she attended a variety of lectures about the health challenges Thailand faces, including the AIDS epidemic. She also participated in seminars that examined the relationship between politics and public health in the Southeast Asian nation. The experience, she added, motivated her “to become involved in public policy—and to learn how we can effect change.”

Thailand offers universal health care, providing outpatient, inpatient, and emergency care, available to all according to need. Dr. Shafeeq visited three different sites: a local clinic, a midlevel hospital, and a large county hospital.

Locally, village health volunteers staff clinics and serve as liaisons between patients and care providers. Though they are not physicians, the volunteers are often the first line of defense in patient care, since doctors are usually able to visit a village only once a week. “The people of Thailand have a real spirit of service,” Dr. Shafeeg stressed. “Creating successful community partnerships and taking ownership of the health of any community that we serve can have a lasting impact on public health. I hope to instill this sense of responsibility in our students.”

Dr. Shafeeq specializes in critical care and research. After receiving her Pharm.D. at St. John’s, she completed her first-year residency at The Brooklyn Hospital Center and went on to a specialty residency in critical care at the University of Chicago Medicine. Dr.  Shafeeq returned to St. John’s University as a faculty member in 2011. “It was like coming full circle,” she remarked.

Dr. Shafeeq immigrated to the United States from Karachi, Pakistan, at the age of 13. “St. John’s mission of serving the children of immigrants still holds true,” she observed, adding that her exposure to the University’s Vincentian Mission—and to faculty members who espouse it—inspired her to be of service to those in need through her profession.

Currently working in the trauma intensive care unit at Nassau University Medical Center, in East Meadow, NY, Dr. Shafeeq does not play the traditional role of a pharmacist. She is a part of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit/Trauma team, advising her colleagues on proper medications for a given patient, and hospital policy.

“In trauma,” said Dr. Shafeeq, “you often see people at their worst, and we are called upon to serve whoever comes through those doors: the sickest patients, the most vulnerable. I try to impress upon my students that this is the ultimate form of service.”