Dr. Uzma Khalid selected psychiatry as her specialty when as an intern she found that her first choice was incompatible with raising a family. Today she has her own practice in Agoura Hills. Khalid, her husband, Shahid, and their three children live in Agoura. I grew up in many different towns. My father was a government servant in Pakistan and he got transferred to many small towns. In my early years, I remember going from one school to another.
My grandfather was very much into education and really wanted all his grandchildren to become well educated and become professionals. He saw what was happening, and when I was 11 years old, he called my father and he said: “What are you doing to your kids? You don’t stay in one place more than six months. You’re going to destroy their education. They’ll spend summer vacations with you, but they’re going to stay with me to go to school.”
Where I come from, if your grandfather says something, that’s what happens.
From my childhood, my father told me I was going to be a doctor. And I always wanted to be a physician. I got admission into Kinnaird College for Women where you do two years of preparation for medical school. I worked very hard, because I knew there was no other thing for me but medicine. We have a final exam for students all over Pakistan. The first year I took it I was the top student in the entire country.
The second year, I was working very hard and not looking after myself. I got typhoid. At times I was so faint that I couldn’t even look at my paper. The final exam couldn’t be postponed. If I didn’t do it, I wasted one year.
I had studied the whole year, so even though I was sick, it was still with me, and I survived. When the results came out, I had come in third and I got a national talent scholarship. That put me through medical school.
When I graduated in 1970, I took the Education Council for Foreign Medical Graduates exam to come to the States. I thought it was just like any other exam in Pakistan. But ECFMG is different. It’s a race against time.
I didn’t make it, and that was a blow to me. I had never failed in anything after I came to my grandfather’s house. I was always top of the class.
There was a lot of frustration, a lot of humility. I learned there’s nothing wrong with making mistakes, as long as you use those mistakes as stepping stones toward bettering yourself. I passed my ECFMG the second time I took it.
When my daughter was just five months old I got a rotating internship in pediatrics at Children of Mercy Hospital, in Kansas City, a very busy hospital. There were no weekends. Every other night I slept at the hospital, and the nights that I came home around 10 she would already be asleep.
Coming from the culture that I came from, that was very difficult for me. I was a mother that was abandoning my child. I can remember nights crying. What to do? I had to be a good physician, I had to be there, because those kids needed me.
After those four months, I thought, “Do I want to do pediatrics?” I considered psychiatry, but coming from Pakistan, we’re still at the mental asylum stage. It wasn’t until I rotated in a psychiatric unit that I saw a totally different side of psychiatry that was appealing. I saw people who were very sick, and also people who were going through a crisis in their life. They needed guiding and help.
Patients come to you, and they open their heart and soul to you. It’s all in front of you, and it makes you feel so close to them. It’s a very private sort of relationship.
So that’s why I chose psychiatry.
When I was growing up with my grandfather, I never thought that I would be a psychiatrist. But I’m very happy with where I have come. I feel I still haven’t reached the number of women I want to reach. I haven’t said what I want to say. I haven’t helped as many people as I want to help. But I feel very good about what I’ve done in my life.