Life Stories

LIFE STORIES: USA land of opportunity for Indian surgeon

Dr. Javeed Khan poses for a picture Thursday, Feb. 2, 2018, outside his office on the campus of Blessing Hospital. Khan is a native of India and is relatively new to Blessing and the Quincy community. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Feb. 5, 2018 9:00 am

QUINCY -- Dr. Javeed Khan's path to Quincy began in a city of 10 million on the other side of the world.

Born in Bangalore, India, the country's third largest city, Khan's parents reinforced, essentially from birth, the importance of education and the need to become either a doctor or an engineer. In a highly competitive system where only three percent of students in the country make it into medical school, Khan was already disadvantaged by his family's income.

His father died in an accident when he was very young, and his aunt, who worked in a government factory, stepped in to provide for the family. His mother was a homemaker and cared for the children.

"Basically, my aunt was like my father," Khan said. "She brought us up."

The family placed a premium on education because none of his other relatives were educated, and it was seen as the only way to have a better life. He took out student loans for his school -- a common practice for American students that is generally not done in India unless a family has little to no means to pay for higher education.

His sister got into engineering school, and he got into the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Medical College. On his final day of medical school, just after completing his final exam, his mother died. His mother's battle with cancer helped reinforce his desire to enter the medical field. "When my mom was really sick, she didn't let on that it was that bad," he said. "She told me to concentrate on my exams, which I regret. I should have taken care of her."


Training abroad

After graduating from medical school, Khan shifted his focus to the United Kingdom. For the first six months abroad, he lived in a studio apartment no bigger than his office at Blessing Health System today, which he shared with 10 other foreign doctors trying to break into the hospital system. Rent was around 30 pounds per week. He spent his days applying for internships at hospitals across the country, a tedious process that consumed almost every waking moment.

"Applying for the job was a full-time job," he said.

While watching most of his friends find jobs and move away, he waited. Finally, he was accepted into a clinical attachment and shortly after received a job as an orthopedic senior house officer, a six-month position. His goal was to receive a surgical rotation.

"I was drawn toward surgery because of the practical nature and the hands-on work," he said. "Saving lives in emergency situations usually doesn't occur in other fields."

At 28, he had paid off his loans, was finally earning some money and was ready to try to make it to the United States. He applied for a visa and began preparing for exams, a process that takes about two years to complete in the United States. Even after completing the exams, getting into surgery as a foreign graduate is like winning the lottery, he said. He gave himself until he turned 36 to become a surgeon -- a deadline he narrowly reached -- and after that, he would change his specialty.

"All my friends said I must be mad," he said. "Going to the USA is the most difficult pathway."

Having completed his position in the United Kingdom, it would take him two years to wade through the exams required to practice medicine in the United States. He decided to go to New Zealand in the interim.

"My plan was to work to become a surgeon in New Zealand, because I really didn't know if I would get the opportunity in the USA," he said.

Four years into his New Zealand excursion, he received an interview in Baltimore for a one-year training position. He would complete his full training program at the same hospital, where he was able to rotate through Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland.

"People in New Zealand said I was crazy, that Americans were workaholics who don't believe in life," he said. "They were kind of right."

He went from working 40 hours per week to 60 in New Zealand and 80 in the U.S.


Visa issues

After a year in residency, he extended his visa. Extended visas are not stamped, which can make travel difficult and nerve-wracking. In his second year of residency, Khan took a risk and went back to India to see his family.

"When I went to apply for the visa stamping, it took about three months," he said.

Khan was stuck in India for three months after what was supposed to be only a 10-day trip. He feared that his job would not be available, if he ever made it back to the U.S.

"Nobody has vacation for three months in one year," he said. "The chairman called me and said if I wasn't coming in one week, I would lose my residency."

Just as he was about to lose hope, the visa came through, and he was able to keep his job.

Residents must work a set number of weeks in a five-year span. Khan's three-month hiatus meant he could not take another vacation day for the next three and a half years.

Another issue with his visa arose after his first year of working as an attending general surgeon, when his visa was up for renewal. He had applied for an extension, but due to some miscalculations of the date, he said, he was not allowed to work while waiting for it to be approved. From August 2013 to December 2013, he did little more than wait for his visa to be renewed.

"Suddenly the lawyer called me and said I had to leave in 24 hours," he said. "I evacuated my home, sold my car, because I didn't know if I was going to come back or not."

He returned to India and applied for his visa from there. Three weeks later, it was approved, and he was able to return to the U.S. The incident marked the last time he went to India. He is still waiting on his green card.

"Right now, I'm scared," he said. "If there were some emergency with my aunt, I don't know if I could be there. It's a difficult situation."

In March 2017, he came to Quincy. At 41, it's the first time in his life he has lived in a city smaller than 500,000. He is starting Blessing's bariatric program in the Blessing Weight Loss Center, 1107 College.

"It takes a lot of education, a lot of meetings," he said. "We're still in the latter half of the process."

He recently started seeing patients. He already has more than 30 patients, and he hopes to do his first bariatric surgery at Blessing next month.

"The USA has been, like everyone says, the land of opportunity for me," he said.