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Profile: Memoona Hasnain helps patients get the care they deserve

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Memoona Hasnain

“This country is rich in finances and resources, but poor in the quality of care provided to patients,” says Memoona Hasnain, director of research in the department of family medicine and director of the Patient-Centered Medicine Scholars Program.

Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

When Memoona Hasnain creates programs that train medical students to provide care for vulnerable populations — focusing on domestic violence, geriatrics, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and immigrant and refugee health — she understands the value of the work better than most.

“I’m an immigrant myself,” said Hasnain, who came here from Pakistan 14 years ago.

“I quickly realized that this country is rich in finances and resources, but poor in the quality of care provided to patients,” she said.

“It’s not just minorities and the underserved — a majority of patients don’t get the care they deserve.”

Hasnain, director of research in the department of family medicine and director of the Patient-Centered Medicine Scholars Program, said the program’s goal is to develop socially responsive physicians who provide patient-centered care. To that end, the students are involved in hands-on, community-based experiences.

Hasnain has a special affinity for Muslim and South Asian women. Her research program explores solutions to the different barriers to quality care for this population.

“Sometimes you don’t set out to craft a path for yourself; it evolves because of who you are,” she said. “There is a paucity of research in this area.”

A medical internship in obstetrics and gynecology during her training in Pakistan helped set her on this path.

“It was in an impoverished area in northern Pakistan,” she said. “I saw a new side of medicine, with a huge disparity. Not all patients got care, and what care they got was suboptimal.”

In charting a path from clinical medicine to medical education and public health, “I’m very fortunate to work with an exceptionally motivated and talented team in family medicine, and brilliant students and residents at UIC who have their hearts and minds aligned to be better doctors,” she said.

As for her own motivation, she said, “It sounds like a cliché, but it’s about finding ways to leave the world a better place than how we found it.”

Hasnain’s job includes research, curriculum development, administration and faculty development. She teaches in the department of family medicine and School of Public Health.

Medicine was not her first choice.

“I actually wanted to be an engineer,” she said. “My sister, one-and-a-half years older, had always been my classmate. She wanted to go into medicine, and my family thought we should do everything together.”

Her advice to anyone considering a career in medicine: approach it with total commitment.
“Don’t do it for any other reason,” she said. “If you really want to help people, do it with all your heart.”

Her personal situation helped determine Hasnain’s course.

“Being a woman, being a mother and a wife, I’ve focused on family development,” she said. “Especially with women faculty, I want to help them find their niche and achieve their maximum potential, balancing their professional and personal roles.”

She grew up in a military family in Pakistan where her father “was a star in every way,” she said. “He was awarded the Sword of Honor and the Norman Medal — very few people receive both. He had an exemplary and decorated career.”

He died in a plane crash at age 42.

“We try to uphold his tradition of excellence, love and high integrity,” his daughter said.

She earned a medical degree at Dow Medical College, University of Karachi, and a master’s and Ph.D. at UIC.

Her husband, Ehsan Ullah, is retired from the Pakistani army and runs a marble and granite business.

“He primarily came here to support my graduate studies,” Hasnain said. “He has been my biggest mentor, and he helps me to mentor students.

“If I didn’t have his support, I wouldn’t be able to do half of what I do.”

The couple, who live on the west campus as part of Campus Housing’s Faculty-in-Residence program, have two sons: Hassan is an undergraduate student, and Farooq, a recent University of Illinois graduate, is a mechanical engineer with John Deere in Waterloo, Iowa. The boys share the surname Janjua, from their father’s family.

“We pledged to go back [to Pakistan] regularly and visit family as much as we can,” Hasnain said.

She enjoys the time she spends in the kitchen.

“It’s Pakistani cooking, a lot of curries, lentils, vegetables and rice dishes,” Hasnain said.

“I recently broke a 14-year embargo on making chapati [flatbread]. My husband thought it was too much work for me, and too messy.”

More profiles:

Faculty member Kay Gonzalez gives students neighborly advice

Economist Frank Chaloupka asks: at what cost do smokers quit?

Computer scientist Jillian Aurisano bridges the gender gap

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