Physician Spotlight: Asma Khan, MD
By taking a scientific approach, Dr. Asma Khan is able to help her patients in Chattanooga while also exploring new treatments and methodologies in endocrinology that will benefit citizens in her native Pakistan.
“Endocrinology has a very logical science behind it that appeals to me, and diabetes and thyroid disease are now very common both here and in Pakistan,” Khan said. “These two things really made me want to go into endocrinology.”
After receiving her medical degree from the Rawalpindi Medical College in Pakistan, Kahn relocated to the United States in 1997 following her marriage. The mother of two took time off until her children were old enough to attend school, and then completed her internship and residency in internal medicine at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga. She holds a fellowship in endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism at the University of Missouri, is board certified in internal medicine, and now practices at Academic Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, a part of the Erlanger Health System.
From the beginning, she realized that studying and then practicing medicine for something as complex as the endocrine system requires an extra effort, Khan said.
“It’s easy to let go, to get busy in your practice, and you have to stay on top of the field and what’s going on,” she said. “My goal is to be actively involved in national, even international, conferences, because that’s where the whole fund of knowledge is created. You go to these meetings and learn a lot, the cutting edge, and I want to do that. My practice is very much an educational environment, and because I also am involved with students, I hope to learn from both them and my practice.”
Teaching some classes, working with residents, reading an ever-growing stack of medical journals and publications, seeing patients, handling office chores … it’s all in a day’s work for Khan, and it’s a full schedule she relishes.
“Trying to do it all is a challenge,” she said. “The business side of medicine, the managing of medicine and a practice, is really not something that’s taught to medical students. You really have to learn how to deal with that as well as seeing and treating patients. You instinctively want to look at patients, diagnose and treat them, because it’s what you’re taught to do. But I’m somebody who wants to broaden my horizons, and step into new areas, and even though this wasn’t what I was thinking of when I went to medical school, I’m learning how to do it successfully.”
While she practices in the United States, Khan stays on top of the medical situation in Pakistan, where she says a lack of fundamental education with regard to prevention of diabetes and other endocrinal diseases has led to an explosion of them in recent years.
“There is no concept of patient education there, and so I’ve made sure that I am really involved in that here,” she said. “We have initiated that in our practice, and I’m doing some community outreach programs. That’s an extremely important part of my specialty, where dietary factors and weight issues play such a big role in diabetes. I’m hoping to expand on that outreach because we have many opportunities here. Erlanger offers many of these programs, and I think they can be expanded through churches and other organizations here so that we can be very active and very involved throughout the community.”
While the day-to-day responsibilities of the practice, as well as her growing teaching and community-outreach responsibilities, take center stage, Khan says she will always make sure there’s time to keep up with the science.
“I want to have a very modern approach to diabetes and other endocrine problems, and that takes knowing what’s going on with all the new technology,” she said. “Here we want to have a very comprehensive patient-education program that includes lifestyle-management classes that will deal with weight issues, dietary factors and more. This is apart from the education that is required for managing diabetes, hypertension, or cholesterol problems because most of that deals with testing and medication.”
To put such classes into play, Khan said she envisions a comprehensive clinic or center to where people will automatically turn not only for treatment, but also for education and just general information on issues around these diseases and conditions. More to the point, it would be a place where prevention would be as important, if not more so, than treatment.
“We want to provide support of any and every kind,” she said. “That really is my hope. Already in the thyroid field we are doing ultrasounds and biopsies that we weren’t doing before to be more proactive in prevention. In diabetes, we are under way with sensor technology and pump therapies that are doing very well. Now if we can have a place where diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes are promoted and put into place before people get sick, or where they are part of the treatment plan, then we’ll really have something.”
An ambitious goal for someone who a 12-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter at home, not to mention multiple community activities and a lengthy reading list of non-work-related books, but it all gets done.
“I want to do everything I can, and while I am doing all of that, make sure that my work with my patients is never hindered,” Khan said. “That really is at the forefront of my mind all the time. I am a very busy person, but I get to go out with my kids, do things, and also make sure that my patients get whatever treatment they need. That’s always my basic concern.”