Chicago: Najma Khan, a South Asian woman who became one of the first female physicians and part of the first wave of immigrants from Asia to the US in 1967 passed away on June 15.
Khan, an ethical humanitarian who served thousands and influenced even more was the second of eleven children born in Hyderabad, India, in 1931.
Since her childhood, she had a strong sense of purpose and was inspired to do great things against all the odds. Initially, she was unable to attend school due to cultural norms for girls at that time, but she was able to convince her father but had to start her first grade at the age of 9. She quickly picked up English, worked hard, and skipped multiple classes each year. Eventually, she graduated high school early at the age of 15.
She then had aspirations to do something unheard of among Indian women of her era. At 19, she enrolled in Medical School at the prestigious Osmania University. She completed a specialized residency and received the school’s first OB-GYN diploma, one of the few awarded in all of India in 1957.
In the late 1950s, three of her dynamic brothers pursued graduation in US, UK, and Canada. A humanitarian at heart, Khan and another doctor friend and a pharmacist, set up a free medical clinic to serve humanity.
Her son, Sayeed Khan, recalled stories they heard while growing up. “Our relatives would tell us about ‘lines around the block’ of India’s miserable waiting to see her for medical care. For her, being a doctor was primarily a way to serve humanity.”
Immigrated to US in 1967
Najma Khan married in 1961. A few years later, America embarked upon a fundamental change in foreign policy when the landmark “US Immigration Act of 1965” was passed to address a shortage of doctors and engineers. Najma and her husband, a chemical engineer, were part of the first wave of the “Asian Brain Drain” when immigrating to the US in 1967. .
While her husband pursued his Ph.D., she studied for her medical board exams in a university campus on the East Coast. She simultaneously raised three very young children.
Khan, received an offer for a medical residency in Chicago in 1970, and soon, the young family made the windy city their new home.
As a physician, she worked for the city and had a private practice. She served the most underserved neighborhoods in Chicago and her growing Muslim community of Chicago over four decades. Najma and her husband were pillars of the community, and her family was an integral part of Chicago’s Muslim Community Center(MCC) during its early years, as reported by Muslim Observer.
Diagnosed with breast cancer
Life was challenging for new immigrants with virtually no family, community, or support system. It got tougher when Najma was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1972. She underwent successful surgery and treatment, but the diagnosis lasted for five years. Turning those five years into 50, Khan lived every day to the fullest while helping establish many relatives in both India and America.
Her eldest son, Hassan, a highly respected physician who ran a medical center, passed away before his mother in June 2019. An year later, Dr. Najma Khan died peacefully in her home on June 15. She was 88.
Dr. Najma Khan’s wisdom, kindness, unquestionable ethics, good intention and her humanitarian efforts made her the one everyone trusted. She was and will remain an inspiration for many.