“Although I would like to hear at the end of my life I was a good doctor, I would like to hear too that I was a better husband and father. Once family comes first, I think I would be better able to share my skills with my country.”
By Sharmain Grainger
Although he is a loving son, husband, father, friend and everything that a good man ought
to be, Dr. Zulfikar Bux still finds time to be an extraordinary medical professional who many are convinced “eats, sleeps and breathes all things emergency medicine.”
This is not at all surprising, because ever since he was able to acquire the requisite skills to practice Emergency Medicine, he has been on a mission to perfect this service at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) as the Head of Emergency Medicine. But he hasn’t simply stopped there.
Dr. Bux has for years been working towards putting in place an emergency response service that can be accessed nationally. Moreover, it was nothing less than a victory for him when the GPHC recently partnered with the Ministries of Public Health and Public Security, along with the Guyana Fire Service, to launch a national Emergency Medical Service (EMS).
The service is one that will see the national emergency and fire responses being merged. By simply dialling 912, citizens can now access the medical and fire response services.
It was yet another moment of triumph for the young doctor last week when he was able to bring to fruition an Emergency Nursing Specialty programme, to help address a gap between doctors and nurses, in the quest to further improve the delivery of emergency care.
He was able to garner immense support from experts at the Vanderbilt Medical Centre in the United States, where he too was able to benefit from crucial training.
But his mission to take Emergency Medicine to another level in our developing country has been no easy task. There were times that he gained little or no support, and situations were daunting enough to cause him to
want to give up. But he opted to stand firm and was able to defy many odds.
“Saving lives is far too important to just give up. It was very difficult, initially, and a lot of persons said it would be impossible. That by itself was a challenge, but when I hear things are impossible, the more I wanted to make them possible,” said Dr. Bux, who is currently basking in the glory of his achievements that are helping to advance Emergency Medicine here.
His outstanding efforts in this regard have not gone unnoticed. In fact, they have even gained attention internationally. Prior to his ambitious goals materialising, Dr. Bux was invited to accept a scholarship to attend the Harvard School of Public Health. There he was successful in the Global Health intensive health leadership course which, he noted, “basically helped to fine tune my skills in developing health systems in a low resource setting”.
And it wasn’t too long ago that he was the recipient of yet another scholarship, to attend the American College of Emergency Physicians. He has been named the Deputy Guyana Ambassador to that institution.
But despite being at the forefront of many successful initiatives and being auspiciously recognised, Dr. Bux has remained humble. He is perhaps still one of the most approachable medical practitioners around. His familial structure is more than likely the reason.
The third of four children, Zulfikar Bux was born on April 17, 1984, to Tazeen and Balkumarie Bux, at Fyrish Village, Corentyne, Berbice. His father, a seasoned agriculturist, was forced to uproot the family a few times during Dr. Bux’s childhood, in order to fulfil the requirements of his work. Moreover, most of Zulfikar’s childhood days were spent in Cotton Tree Village on the West Coast of Berbice.
He said that over the years he fell in love with the village, so much so that, even today, he has remained grounded there. This translates to him driving from Berbice every day in order to practice his profession at the Georgetown Hospital.
“I don’t see myself going anywhere else. I don’t care how frustrating things get in Guyana, somehow or the other I have gotten addicted to that village. If I had my way, I would be living and doing everything in Berbice, especially in my village…probably that is the biggest reason I am still in Guyana,” a blushing Dr. Bux confided.
He is of the firm belief that Berbice is almost a separate and more hospitable world, when
compared to areas like Georgetown. And he knows this all too well, because for a short period he rented an apartment in the city.
“I did not know who I lived next door to, because people didn’t talk to you much…some would say hello sometimes. I have been to the US, Trinidad, and a few other countries, and you see the same thing. But where I grew up in Berbice it’s nothing like that,” Dr. Bux asserted.
Reminiscing about his young days, he related that “my neighbours in Berbice practically brought me up when my family migrated.”
“I didn’t have to worry about anything…I could’ve just walked into their (neighbours) kitchens, take whatever I wanted, and they never accepted payment from me. When I had birthdays they would celebrate with me too, and I could’ve slept at any of their houses. The love you have there, it’s not the kind you see anywhere else. That was the kind of atmosphere I grew up in, and it is the same kind of environment I want to bring my children up in and grow old in,” Dr. Bux stated emphatically.
Many may conclude that the dedication and drive Dr. Bux possesses to advance Emergency
Medicine, suggests that he is fulfilling a destined calling. But what many people will be surprised to learn is that as a lad, he certainly didn’t envisage himself in the field of medicine.
In the mind of young Zulfikar, being an international cricketer was definitely in his future. In fact, he was convinced since from a tender age that this was his designated path.
This was quite believable, since he was a relatively skilled cricketer, playing for a Berbice youth team. But his father somehow was long convinced that practicing medicine was his son’s destined forte.
It wasn’t until years later that the junior Bux, too, was overwhelmed with the realisation that indeed he was born for things medicine. It all hit him like a ton of bricks when he witnessed the demise of a neighbour from a medical condition that he (Zulfikar) subsequently learnt was avoidable.
During our interview, he recalled vividly when that neighbour, a diabetic, became gravely ill to the point of becoming unresponsive. The neighbour was seen at a health facility, but died shortly after. Bux was just a teenager at the time, but he was eventually able to find out that this neighbour was suffering from hypoglycaemia, a condition that occurs in diabetic persons when their blood sugar level is low.
“The fact that nobody thought to look for the signs of low blood sugar…it caused me to become worried about the level of health care we were getting. All somebody had to do was give him (the neighbour) some ice cream or even a little bit of sugar water, and he could have been alive today,” Dr. Bux reflected, as he disclosed “it was at this point that I started to look more closely at medicine. This was a turning point in my life”.
Although determined to eventually pursue a career in medicine, he was still bent on pursuing cricket as well. He desperately tried to balance his studies with playing cricket, as he was convinced that there was no reason he couldn’t be the best at both. After all, he was smart enough. His father, however, encouraged him to dedicate his focus to medicine.
Before long, cricket had taken a back seat, as Zulfikar decided to heed his father’s advice. He completed his final days at secondary school, with a devoted plan on commencing the Medicine Programme at the University of Guyana (UG).
He had barely started his studies at UG when his family got an opportunity to migrate to the United States. Dr. Bux disclosed that although he was but a young boy, he was not prepared to abruptly bring his studies to an end. This resulted in him being left behind and having to essentially live on his own; but not without his family’s enduring love and support from a distance.
Watching his family leave was hard, but Zulfikar had already adopted the trait of making even the seemingly impossible possible. Aside from that, he simply hadn’t the mindset to take up residence in another land; that simply wasn’t an option for him. This was in light of the fact that he was driven by thoughts of “what can I do for my country? Becoming a doctor I believe was one of the best ways I could contribute to my country”.
BECOMING A DOCTOR
Zulfikar attended Rosignol Primary School and then New Amsterdam Multilateral. It was after completing his Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) examinations and finishing up his advanced secondary studies, that he applied to, and was accepted at UG to pursue the pre-med programme.
While encouraging words from his father were enough to keep him on track, Dr. Bux reflected that it was really his mother who helped him remain focused along the way.
“She was always keeping in contact with me by phone…I can’t remember a single day she didn’t call me. She was supporting me in every way possible. She would have given me everything she had just to ensure that I reached my goal. She is the one that helped me to become the person I am today,” said a grateful Dr. Bux.
After graduating from UG, he started practicing as a General Medical Officer at the GPHC. But in order to become a specialist in his field, he had to undertake some training overseas. He wasn’t too anxious to venture abroad, but it was necessary if he was to specialise in Emergency Medicine. He wasn’t prepared to just be a general practitioner, but rather, he was aiming to fill a void that was gravely lacking at that time.
Through strategic collaboration between the GPHC and Vanderbilt Medical Centre in the United States – which was even then regarded as a top Emergency Medicine hospital – Dr. Bux was able to access specialist training.
“I was like the lab rat…I was the pioneer when it came to Emergency Medicine here. A lot of people were skeptical about it, but I was actually ready for it. Three of us were interviewed (for training) but I was the only one who made it through and graduated,” Dr. Bux recalled.
“It was a system where I had to trust them (experts at Vanderbilt) to train me,” said Dr. Bux, who, after completing the programme, became the first Emergency Medicine specialist in the country. And according to him, “it just goes to show that you can be elevated to the highest possible level of your profession and do the best you can by staying right here in Guyana”. Since his training, he has paved the way for seven more doctors to follow in his footsteps and he is confident that in the next few years, the number of specialists in this field will amount to at least 20.
The addition of Emergency Medicine specialists like Dr. Bux into the public health care system does not only mean improvement in the service offered at the GPHC, but the country as a whole.
According to Dr. Bux, “an Emergency Specialist can figure out and manage a patient’s condition in a way that no other physician can…it could be a gunshot wound or even a heart attack, and an Emergency Specialist can deal with cases like that and more, in a safe and efficient manner. Patients can actually be treated and stabilised by emergency doctors”.
It has been recognised internationally, Dr. Bux noted, that Emergency Medicine is in fact the face of the whole public health system, and it has been for this reason that he has gracefully taken the lead to advance this mandate.
BALANCING FAMILY LIFE
And it hasn’t been all work. Zulfikar tied the knot on August 3, 2013 with his sweetheart, Farzana, and they are the proud parents of baby Aliyahana who will celebrate her first Christmas this year.
He reflects that becoming a father is a role that he had long awaited.
“I give quite a lot of my time to the public, and I want to ensure what I have started continues, but at the same time I have to balance my family life also. Although I would like to hear at the end of my life I was a good doctor, I would like to hear too that I was a better husband and father. Once family comes first, I think I would be better able to share my skills with my country.”
It is for such selflessness and his invaluable contribution to his homeland that Dr. Bux is today being recognised as this week’s ‘Special Person’.
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