‘I used to say it was discrimination, but now I realise it’s straightforward racism’

New to the Parish: Dr Mohsin Kamal arrived from Pakistan in 2015

Dr  Mohsin Kamal with   his wife,  Fatima,  and their children,  Marwa and Muhammad, pictured   in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Dr Mohsin Kamal with his wife, Fatima, and their children, Marwa and Muhammad, pictured in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Mohsin Kamal was always a hard worker at school. He grew up hearing stories of the struggles his father faced as a child and knew how much his family valued education. “My dad was a brilliant student, but his father died when he was 10, and he had to quit school and work. He knew if he continued to study, his younger brothers wouldn’t be able to get their education.”

Growing up on a farm outside the city of Okara, in eastern Pakistan, Kamal initially set his sights on becoming an accountant, but his uncle, who had trained as a doctor, persuaded him to study medicine instead.

“He thought by joining this profession I could serve the community in a better way. He felt accountants are usually after money rather than helping humanity. That’s why he wanted me to be a doctor.”

Kamal secured a place studying premedicine for two years in the city of Lahore before moving to the Services Institute of Medical Science. Two years after graduating he was recruited to work in Ireland. He arrived on St Patrick’s Day in 2015.

Starting work in an Irish hospital ‘was a whole new system, and the language was difficult. The stress was high, and I was so scared I would do something wrong’

As he was the only son in a family of four children, his parents struggled seeing him travel so far abroad for work. “Obviously my father wanted me to develop my career, but they were not happy to lose their only son. To be honest, it was very hard for me too, a total mix of emotions.”

Kamal’s first role was in paediatrics at St Luke’s General Hospital in Kilkenny, a position he found very challenging.“It was a whole new system, and the language was difficult. The stress was high, and I was so scared I would do something wrong.”

It was also his first time living away from his parents and his sisters. “My mum had done my cooking for me, and I lived with my older sister before coming here. I had to mature within three months and learn how to do things by myself.”

After Kilkenny, Kamal was transferred to Letterkenny for eight months and then Cork for another 10 months. In August 2017 he married his wife, Fatima – a union arranged by his family. “She’s my cousin. We’d known each other all our lives. After our honeymoon she came to Ireland for three weeks but then had to go back to Pakistan to finish her medical internship. She then moved back in 2018.”

The couple went on to have two children – a daughter and a son – and settled in Dublin, where Kamal now works as a paediatric-nephrology registrar at Temple Street Children’s Hospital.

In 2019, during a visit to see his family in Pakistan, Kamal was invited by a former classmate to visit a small rural school he had established for children. “I asked him where do they go after this, and he told me the boys go to the city but the girls can’t go anywhere, because their parents are reluctant to let them make the journey because of safety issues.”

Kamal agreed to donate money to build a school in Pakistan, to make education more accessible for girls. ‘I ended up contributing nearly €40,000. I felt such pride in what we’d done’

Compelled to help these children who were growing up not far from his own home, Kamal agreed to donate money to build another school, to make education more accessible for girls. A year and a half later, in September 2020, the new school opened for teenagers in the local area.

“I ended up contributing nearly €40,000, and another friend in America sent more. It doesn’t have many students yet, because of coronavirus, but it can take nearly 1,000 students. I felt such pride in what we’d done, and when I saw the girls going into the school it made me very happy.”

Kamal says his own parents’ determination to keep their girls in school was very unusual for that area, and he hopes the new school will encourage more families to keep their daughters in education.

“I don’t see any reason why education should be different for boys and girls. It’s because of a lack of education among parents: they don’t think it’s worth sending their daughters, because they’ll just get married and have children. If we educate this generation they can change this, and they will want their daughters to go to school.”

In early February, Kamal and his wife had to make an unexpected trip back to Pakistan when his uncle died after contracting Covid-19. He had been working full-time until January; he picked up the virus while treating a patient. “He was a doctor for 40 years, and what he did was extraordinary. He used to give people free medical care; he always had time for poorer people, and I think he passed that on to me. He showed me life is not just about yourself: it has to be about others.”

It feels like you’re living in a cave: you emerge in the morning, go to work and come back in the evening and don’t see anyone

Kamal briefly saw his parents during his trip to Pakistan, which, he says, helped release some of the stress he built up working through the pandemic. “It feels like you’re living in a cave: you emerge in the morning, go to work and come back in the evening and don’t see anyone. Your family cannot go anywhere; your kids cannot see other kids. My wife has been housebound for a year now, which is very difficult.”

Last year Kamal cofounded a campaign calling on the Government to fast-track citizenship applications from healthcare workers. Like his non-EU colleagues, he is unable to access training schemes to develop his career and become a consultant in Ireland. “I used to say it was discrimination, but now I realise it’s straightforward racism against people who are not born here. These healthcare workers have worked so hard during the pandemic. It makes me so angry; they stop us at every step.”

Inspired by Prof Karina Butler, who chairs the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, and with whom he briefly worked, Kamal would like to specialise in infectious diseases. He says he will wait six more months to see if the system is made more accessible for non-EU doctors before starting to apply for work in the UK.

“My kids love Ireland, and my wife loves the weather. We love the people and the way they smile at you. It would be very hard to leave this country.”

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