Interview International Woman Day
Dr Khan has an inspiring professional and personal journey. Through this interview, I got the golden opportunity to not only discover a wonderful clinician and a researcher, but I also got the chance to discover such a humble human being with an altruistic personality. Being a medical student, I had a lot of questions regarding how to balance both personal and professional life. Fortunately, with this interview, I realised that being a competent and accomplished doctor does not mean that we need to keep our family on second priority. On the contrary, both of these can go hand in hand if one uses their time correctly.
What made you choose a career in medicine?
My younger sister has Rett’s syndrome and required complete care for meals, dressing and toileting. She also had seizures and we received very little support from our physician in Ottawa in caring for her condition or treating her seizures. At night she would often have seizures and bite her hands . I would care for my sister after school and all night long and felt frustrated with the lack of treatment options for her medical condition. I wanted to study medicine in order to advance new knowledge and develop new therapies for people with severe disabilities.
What got you interested in your field?
I was fascinated by the structure and function of the human skeleton in medical school. The ability of the skeleton to repair and renew itself and the function of the bone cells and their ability to communicate with each was remarkable. I knew that I wanted to learn more about the skeleton –the diseases affecting the skeleton as well as our ability to improve the structure and function of the bones with drug therapy. This is why I chose to study bone disease and calcium disorders.
Are there times when being a woman has made your personal and professional development more difficult/easier?
Being a woman and achieving success academically requires commitment, dedication and excellent time management . Mothers, to be successful women, have to carve out time for their career after ensuring that their children are cared for. This requires juggling many responsibilities as well as depending on family members for support. I could not have achieved my career goals without the support of my dear mother , father and husband. I am forever indebted to my amazing parents and husband for their unending support which was instrumental to my success as a physician and professor of medicine.
How do you balance your work and family life?
To be successful in life it is necessary to balance our responsibilities and ensure that we meet the needs of our family members who depend on us as our most important priority. I believed it was my responsibility as a mother to ensure that I met the needs of my children first and foremost – not only their physical needs but also their emotional and spiritual needs. I would spend as much time as possible with my children however juggling residency and hospital responsibilities as a young mother was not easy. I had a nanny and my mother who were essential in overseeing their care but I would also try to have my children accompany me to work if and when possible. Many times I would take my young children with me to my lectures and I would introduce them to the audience as my audiovisual expert. A five year old is very good at advancing slides and my children would enjoy these trips and the time we were able to spend travelling to these lectures. They also enjoyed meeting new people . Some of the best vacations we had were speaking tours around the world with my children as well as my husband or my parents . They were great educational opportunities as well as fun times for our family. It’s important to use every minute of your time wisely and try to integrate all the many responsibilities you have so that you can be successful in all spheres of life, including family life as well as professional life.
You received many awards, one of them is the International Osteoporosis Foundation Award for publishing excellence in 2017. You also have been recognized as being in the top 0.1% of the worlds experts in parathyroid disease. How did that influence the rest of your career?
I felt honored and humbled by that recognition. It encouraged me to keep pushing for excellence and to not worry about the time that intensive research and teaching requires . It is true that pursuing excellence is time consuming, but it is important to aim for excellence as that is what it takes to develop advances in science and make a difference in people’s lives.
Can you tell us more about the school and orphanage you build for Syrian refugee girls in Turkey?
The Syrian crisis was heartbreaking – what was shocking was the fact that schools and hospitals are being bombed and innocent children and civilians are being targeted by the barrel bombs being dropped on heavily populated cities. My heart broke when I saw the picture of the little Aylan Kurdi’s body washed onto the shore…- I felt that these children who are our children are being orphaned or losing their limbs or their lives – I wanted to do what was in my ability to help the millions of orphans travelling to neighbouring countries seeking shelter Many of these innocent orphan children walked on foot into neighbouring countries like Turkey with just the clothes on their back and many had lost both of their parents .
It is heartbreaking to see such injustice and I wanted to make a meaningful change in the lives of these children who had lost everything. I put together my own personal savings to build Rahma (means mercy) house in Osmaniye, which is a town that received many refugees. I particularly wanted to help Syrian refugee girls as they had very little support and were more vulnerable to abuse than boys. Educating a girl can result in huge benefits to society as the mother then educates her children raising the family out of despair. I envisioned developing a school and an orphanage for them. Right now, we have 500 children who are provided with shelter, educational classes, meals, and clothing. We are currently in the process of developing Skype sessions to teach the children English, maths and sciences. We are working to expand this program and also develop a mental health program for the Syrian refugees in Osmaniye.
As background information, my parents’ dream was to build an orphanage and I wanted to fulfill their dream. My parents spent most of their time teaching young children how to read and write and how to read the Quran. My parents believed in spreading love and they served God by serving His creation. I wanted to share these qualities with all the children around the globe –we need to love all children regardless of their race or religion as they are like our own children – The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him ) said “ you are not a believer unless you love for others what you love for yourself “ I wanted to spread that love to the children displaced by war.
What do you think a “strong” woman is? What about a woman leader?
A strong woman is one who is brave and courageous and willing to stand up against injustice and oppression and speak words of truth
A woman leader is someone who will strive to achieve the goals of her people and influence them to support her in achieving these goals – hopefully this will result in improved quality of life and empowerment for all people.
What advice will you give to future generations of women in medicine?
My advice will be to enjoy every day, to dream big, work hard and to continue to be optimistic. Continue to love everyone, all people, all situations.
If we had to retain one thing about you from the interview, what would you like it to be?
It would be the importance of loving everybody on this earth and serving them to the best of our ability. This is my main goal in life, and I would want it to be a goal shared and cherished by everyone.
REALITY CHECK: NOT JUST WOMEN ARE AFFECTED BY OSTEOPOROSIS. WE’RE ALL AT RISK
Osteoporosis? Not me. Some people believe that they are not at risk for this disease behind a loss of bone density, both in quality and quantity – a precursor to potential fractures that can seriously impair our ability to live life to the fullest.
Myths around bone health persist, everything from thinking osteoporosis only affects the elderly to holding onto the idea that popping supplements provide enough protection. Or that men can dismiss the disease as something only women need to worry about.
Let’s start with a hard truth: We need to be cognizant of bone health at every stage of life, especially post-menopausal women who are the most vulnerable to developing osteoporosis. According to data from Osteoporosis Canada, two million Canadians are affected by the disease.
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OSTEOPOROSIS IS A MEN’S DISEASE, TOO: WHAT AN EXPERT HAS TO SAY
“Osteoporosis is the silent disease,” says Dr. Aliya Khan, professor of Clinical Medicine, Endocrinology, Metabolism and Geriatrics at McMaster University. “We also call osteoporosis the ‘silent thief’ because it can destroy a person’s bone structure – wreaking havoc on their overall health and vitality – with little warning. While it’s often considered a woman’s disease, osteoporosis also steals the lives of men.
YouAreUnltd asked Dr. Khan,who is also director of the Bone Research & Education Centre in Oakville and director of the Calcium Disorders Clinic at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON, for answers to some common questions about osteoporosis and men. Here’s what she said:
Is osteoporosis really an issue for men?
One out of every four women and one out of every eight men over the age of 50 develop osteoporosis. Low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue result in fragile bones that can fracture with limited or no trauma: “Women lose bone density at a much sharper rate when they reach menopause and experience more bone fractures. For men, who are often hesitant to talk about osteoporosis, the deterioration in bone strength is more gradual, often due to aging, various diseases and the side effect of drugs.”
Why do more men die from hip fractures than women?
Studies show that 25 percent of women die within six to 12 months of a hip fracture, whereas the mortality rate for men is 40 percent. “Women who lose bone density as a result of menopause do so much earlier than men,” explains Dr. Khan. “Men experience osteoporotic fractures 10 years later than women. It’s not uncommon to hear of women experiencing hip fractures in their 70s whereas men are more likely to experience hip fractures in their 80s.”
“WE ALSO CALL OSTEOPOROSIS THE ‘SILENT THIEF’ BECAUSE IT CAN DESTROY A PERSON’S BONE STRUCTURE – WREAKING HAVOC ON THEIR OVERALL HEALTH AND VITALITY – WITH LITTLE WARNING.”
That means the male is dealing with age-related illnesses when he’s recovering from a hip fracture – in addition to the impact of major surgery and prolonged bed rest. A prolonged bed rest increases the risk of heart and lung complications, such as pneumonia and heart attacks, as well as an increased risk of blood clots due.
What factors increase a man’s risk of developing osteoporosis?
A man’s risk increases as he ages, but also if he:
- has a parent who’s had a hip fracture
- regularly consumes three or more alcoholic drinks per day
- weighs less than 60 kilograms (132 pounds)
- is being treated with hormone therapy for prostate cancer
- lives with a chronic disease such as lung disease, liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes, low testosterone, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, cancer, hyperthyroidism or an overactive parathyroid gland.
Vitamin deficiencies could contribute to osteoporosis. Photo: Flickr/Creative Common, denAsuncioner.
- has an inadequate intake of calcium or vitamin D
- leads a sedentary lifestyle.
Is it true that certain medications can impair bone density?
Prednisone, a steroid prescribed a variety of illnesses (arthritis, severe allergies, asthma, skin diseases, cancer, immune system disorders, live and bowel diseases, among others) can weaken bones and lead to osteoporosis. Cancer treatment (chemotherapy and radiation) can also damage the body’s ability to build and repair bones. Frank discussions with your healthcare team is important whenever any medication is prescribed, insists Dr. Khan.
Other drugs associated with bone loss include anti-seizure medications, certain antidepressants, proton pump inhibitors, and drugs for prescribed for prostate cancer.
Do men exhibit obvious signs and symptoms of osteoporosis?
“A man’s bones can become thinner and more brittle – but an individual cannot feel this loss,” explains Dr. Khan. “That’s why people are often shocked when a simple fall results in a serious, sometimes life-threatening bone fracture. In addition to treating the fracture, it’s equally important to identify the cause.”
The standard rule, according the doctor: “If you break a bone (other than your hands, feet, ankles or face) by falling from standing height, or from the third stair step or lower while running down the stairs – that confirms the presence of osteoporosis by definition. Blood and urine tests can help determine why there is impaired bone strength. We also complete a bone mineral density test (BMD). A bone fracture involving the hip, spine, shoulder or forearm is considered a major osteoporotic fracture and a careful evaluation is necessary.”
Women lose bone density during menopause. Do men experience something similar?
Male menopause, called hypogonadism or andropause, is marked by low testosterone. Men going through this hormonal loss can experience a number of symptoms (low energy, fatigue, decrease in muscle mass, hot flashes, etc.) as well as a loss in height and bone density. “It’s imperative in these cases to check for testosterone levels – but also to determine what’s causing this decrease in testosterone,” advises Dr. Khan.
What medications are prescribed for osteoporosis?
There are various medications that help rebuild bone structure and prevent bone mineral loss. One of the common medications used is denosumab, better known perhaps by its brand name Prolia. “However, many people stop taking their medications during their recovery from hip and other bone fractures,” explains Dr. Khan. “It’s vital to continue to take all prescribed medications.” The good news is that denosumab can now be administered by injection once every six months and is approved by drug plans for both men and women in Canada.
In addition, there is also the bone builder teriparatide (or Forteo), administered daily by injection, which can reverse the osteoporosis process and rebuild the bone.
Lifestyle choices, like limiting alcohol consumption, can reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Beau Considine.
How do I prevent osteoporosis?
Exercise, good nutrition, proper nutrient intake – especially of calcium and vitamin D – contribute to good bone health. But topping the list: limit alcohol intake and stop smoking! For a full guide to good bone health and osteoporosis prevention, visit the Bone Health section of Osteoporosis Canada: https://osteoporosis.ca/bone-health-osteoporosis