Exclusive interview with

Major General Shahida Malik

Columnist SOBIA NISAR interviews Pakistan’s first woman general.

You have become the first ever lady  General Officer of the Pakistan Armed Forces. Please tell us about the feelings when you were pinned with the badges of ranks on your shoulders?

As badges of my rank were being pinned on my shoulders by the Surgeon General/Director General Medical Services Lieutenant General Karamat Ahmed Karamat, HI(M) and my husband Major General Asad Mehmud Malik, HI(M), I felt an overwhelming feeling of intense gratitude  to Almighty Allah for having bestowed this singular and unique honour on me. My next feeling was of deep gratitude to the President and COAS General Pervez Musharraf, NI(M), S.BT for his bold decision to give priority to women and bring them into forefront for the development of the country.

Please tell us something about your early life?

As far as I can recollect, I had very loving parents, especially my father who was a highly qualified civil engineer from Glasgow, and serving in MES. His peers remember him as Mr. M.Y. Khan, a symbol of honesty and integrity. He ensured that we went to the best school i.e St. Joseph’s Convent School in Karachi, St Joseph Quetta and then Presentation Convent Rawalpindi. Also he was a role model for us, because he was extremely kind and polite to all. He used to say:

“Be the best, and take pride in your profession.”

And we really did so. I worked day and night and never stood 2nd in class. I qualified my Matric and F.Sc as a Talent Scholar, and qualified MBBS from Fatima Jinnah Medical College Lahore in 1969 with distinction in Surgery and then joined Army Medical Corps.

Anything that you would like to say about your school and college life?

As I have just said, it was very competitive and my class fellows still remember me, as never having stood 2nd in class in Presentation Convent School, Rawalpindi. In matric, I stood 1st in Pindi Division and in FSc I stood 2nd in the board with just one mark. I joined Fatima Jinnah Medical College Lahore and always worked hard and stood  amongst the  top students. Later when I qualified in 1969, I had Distinction and Gold Medal in Surgery. In short I have never liked to be the 2nd best, but always aspired for the top slot.

Who exercised a formulative influence on your personality in your early years?

The most formative influence on my personality was the honesty, integrity and hard work that we saw our father do. He was a very noble man and along with my dear mother they formed a perfect pair and role model for us. All brothers and sisters worked hard in school, and there was always a competition amongst us to excel. Especially my elder sister who happens to be highly qualified as she teaches English as a foreign language in University of Albana, USA.

Why did you choose the Army as a profession?

To be honest, when I started my house job in the hospital attached to Fatima Jinnah Medical College Lahore, I was utterly disappointed to see the state of poor patients and apathy of most of the doctors. There was no accountability at any stage and this made me  extremely unhappy, as soon as my father told me that Army was inducting doctors, I applied immediately and left this job — utterly disappointed. However, when I joined the Army, I liked the discipline, planning and organization of Army Hospitals everyone was being constantly monitored and was held accountable for any negligence. Here I could put in my best, look after my patients and not feel guilty of any neglect.

How was life at Fatima Jinnah Medical College?

Life at Fatima Jinnah Medical College was like any other professional  Medical College i.e hard work and dedication all the way, and that was the way it was for me. Always competing and trying to be the best.

Any instructor who made a deep impression on your personality?

Well, I don’t think so there was any one person who made a deep impression on me. I  used to takeup the good points of any person, whom I came across and felt that he or she stood out from the rest. However, after my father, I took quite an impression of my husband who happens to be a very noble and honourable man and has made a marked impression on my life and my career.

Any contemporaries about whom you would like to say anything?

Most of my contemporaries have been reasonably good officers, both genders, however there is nothing very specific I would like to say about them.

What are your perceptions about Pakistan’s politics?

As a serving Army officer, I closely watch the day to day ups and downs of Pakistan’s politics, and hope and pray that some stability comes to it, if there is a democracy then let it be a true one. A democracy in which honest, able and dedicated politicians come forward, who have the true  interest of the country at heart and countrymen are to breathe a sign of relief. However, most important is the stability of Pakistan.

Any General Officer who particularly impressed you in terms of being a fine professional?

It may seem strange, but having met many General Officers in the Army Medical Corps, who left some impression on my mind, but the most lasting impression is that of my husband. He is Major General Asad Malik, presently serving as Principal Army medical College. Not only has he excelled in his field as a fine surgeon, doing state of art surgery, but also as a man of great integrity, honesty and perfection in whatever he does.He is an extremely pious, gentle and polite person with extreme compassion for his patients who come far from and wide to him. I feel he is an embodiment of the best, one could desire in any person.

Please tell us something about your service profile from 1970 to 1995?

I joined Army Medical Corps in February 1970 as GDMO (General Duty Medical Officer) and was posted as Lieutenant at CMH Jhelum.

Later I was posted to CMH Risalpur in 1972 and was promoted to the rank of Captain, following this  it was CMH Rawalpindi and then for a very short time in PNS Shifa Karachi.

From there I  was posted to CMH Quetta and promoted to the rank of Major. Then I accompanied my husband to UK for his fellowship from 1977 to 1979.

On returning from UK, I was posted to CMH Rawalpindi as Staff Surgeon till 1986 when I was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1986, I was posted to CMH Peshawar as MO I/C Family Wing till 1995.

I reported to AFM College Rawalpindi in 1995 for MSc Advanced Medical Administration   Course held by Quaid-i-Azam University. During all this period my competence and compassion with patients were rewarded  by excellent Annual  Confidential Reports (ACR) and this made my promotion possible whenever due. In short, my honesty, hardwork, excellent doctor-patient relation won for me many friends and excellence in my profession.

How would you compare the Indian Army Medical Corps with Pakistan Army Medical Corps?

As far as Pakistan Army Medical Corps is concerned , I think it is doing a fine job looking after Defence personnel, families and their dependents of all the three forces in all the services hospitals. We have excellent specialists and super specialists alongwith excellent administrators who are busy around the clock providing state of art treatment. However, I do not have any information of Indian Army Medical Corps, so I cannot say anything about it.

Please tell us something about your service profile from 1995 onwards?

In 1995 I reported to AFPGMI Rawalpindi for my MSc (Advanced Medical Administration) Course run by Quaid-I-Azam University, I topped the course and was awarded “Burki Gold Medal”. This qualification prepares the administrator of various hospitals to perform even more efficiently in further managing and providing excellent patient care to patients in hospitals. In short, it is a detailed one year course, that prepares a hospital administrator to perform his job in the best possible manner.

What were the challenges that you faced when you were assigned the huge responsibility of commanding the administration  and support services in Armed forces Institute of Cardiology and National Institute of Heart Diseases?

When I was appointed Deputy Commandant (Administration  and Support Services) in 1996, it seemed to be a daunting job, but I took it as a great challenge. AFIC/NIHD is a premier institute of the country with a state of art cardiac care both in Cardiology and Cardiac surgery. My immediate desire as an administrator  was to provide the best medical care to cardiac patients. The cardilogist  and cardiac surgeons were doing a tremendous job , if I  could give them full support  by running the administration smoothly, they would perform to their optimum, and patients care would be markedly improved and AFIC/NIHD would become a vital and premier institute of the country.

How would you describe the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in terms of overall environment, administration and operational efficiency?

At present I have no doubt in saying  that it is working at the peak of effiency ender the persent commandant Major General SyedAfzal , a very competent cardiac surgeon. He has an excellent team of surgeons ,anaesthesologists and cardiologists. All of them are performing complicated  cardiac surgeries  ,Angeoplasties, EP Albations. There is complete harmony amongst all the departments. Administration is in excellent hands and I have no doubt when I say that it is at the peak of operational efficiency and perhaps an institute that every Pakistani can be proud of.

What are the shortcomings or handicaps that you faced in different Armed Forces hospitals nationwide?

Armed Forces Hospitals all over the country are doing fine job in providing excellent patient care to patients. However, sometimes due to financial crunch ,the treatment may just be a little short of desired, because of great increase in entitlement of patients, without corresponding increase in financial allocation.

The AFIC is one of the finest cardiac centers in Pakistan. What is the overall percentage result of successful operations that are undergone here?

The results of cardiac surgery are excellent, are comparable with any such international institutes. We have teams coming from UK, USA, KSA, France who are unanimous in their appreciation of excellent cardiac surgery carried out in this institute. Besides, the surgeons, we have excellent post-operative ITC care provided by foreign trained doctors and nurses. This results in excellent care and best outcome of surgical cases.

What are your suggestions regarding the improvement of the overall conditions of our Armed forces health centres and hospitals throughout the country?

The prevailing conditions in most of the Armed Forces hospitals are of high standard and the higher authorities are constantly making their efforts to further improve patient care by providing institutes with all the latest diagnostic and therapeutic facilities. However, there is always room for improvement and this can be done with better financial allocation.

How do you see the future of Army Medical Corps?

I see a bright future for Army Medical Corps. The higher authorities of GHQ are always endeavouring to provide the best medical care to the entitled patients. We have excellent specialists and administrators. They form a great team in all the hospitals. I think AMC is doing a fine job in close association with rest of Army.

How do you manage to maintain a balance between your family life and professional life?

It is an excellent question. Firstly, I want to say that once you take on a profession, be honest and dedicated to it. Secondly, your family life is extremely important but you have to see your priorities. So plan, organize and execute your responsibilities in such a manner that you do justice to both. In my case, both family and profession were equally important, but with my competence, I struck a balance between the two. I gave the best to my very successful family and the same to my profession. The end result was excellent in both fields, by blessings of Almighty Allah.

Please tell us something about the most unforgettable incident in your entire professional life?

There were many incidents in my life. However, one such incident does stand out sometimes while I was in Sir Ganga Ram Hospital 1969, there was a child Asiya, badly hurt. I used to do her dressing with great care, but inspite of all my efforts, she was in great pain and agony. However, when she recovered after many months and was ready to leave, her very poor father requested me to accept a little token of gratitude from him. He took me to the side, thanked me with all his heart for giving a new life to Asiya, and from his pocket took out a crumpled 5 rupee note and handed it to me, begging me  to accept it as a token of his gratitude. I did so very reluctantly, because I did not want him to feel small and embarrassed. I still remember his poverty and innocence, it left and indelible impression on my mind, I later deposited this token of gratitude in poor patients fund.

Any message that you would like to give to the lady officers of Army Medical Corps?

I would like to say, that, please join this profession if you are competent and have compassion for patients. Presently, there are many avenues for women as far as profession is concerned in our country  to excel. If it is medical profession then firstly be really competent, honest, dedicated and have compassion for all your patients. As far as I am concerned, I can say one thing, it has been work, work and work all the way, firstly as a doctor, with excellent doctor- patient relationship and secondly as an administrator where excellent health care delivery system was my motto till now.