Dr. Tariq Murad: “Let alone what our role in medicine is”

Most people don’t know what a pathologist is, let alone what our role in medicine is. Many believe that the physician they interact with is the one who makes all the decisions. I hope by sharing my experiences, more people will have greater knowledge of the overall practice of medicine, especially the importance of a […]

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Most people don’t know what a pathologist is, let alone what our role in medicine is. Many believe that the physician they interact with is the one who makes all the decisions. I hope by sharing my experiences, more people will have greater knowledge of the overall practice of medicine, especially the importance of a pathologist in the medical practices, in spite of being behind the scenes.

As part of my series about “How to write a book that sparks a movement” I had the great pleasure of interviewing Dr. Tariq Murad.

Dr. Tariq Murad was born in Iraq in 1936. After serving in the army and finishing medical school in Bagdad, he received a full scholarship to earn his PhD in Pathology from The Ohio State University where he later became a professor in Pathology. As a practicing Pathologist for 50 years prior to retirement, he spent 10 years at University of Alabama-Birmingham, and then spent 9 years as Professor of Pathology and Director of Surgical Pathology at Northwestern University Medical Center, before moving to private practice. In one notable case, Dr. Murad correctly diagnosed the Tony and Academy Award-winning actor, Yul Brynner, saving him from a previous misdiagnosis and a recommended laryngectomy, which would have abruptly ended his career. Dr. Murad is an active gardener and resides in the Chicagoland area. He recently published “The Making of a Pathologist: A Memoir.”

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the “backstory” about how you grew up?

Thank you. I would also like to share my appreciation for allowing me the opportunity to tell my story to your readers. I was born in Iraq in 1936, and was fortunate enough to grow up in a loving and well-to-do home, with a father who was a highly respected physician who worked fourteen hours every day, a mother who stayed at home raising the children and managing the household, and six older siblings — four brothers and two sisters. My Father was the first physician in Homs, Syria and one of the founders of Iraqi medicine in the Iraqi Ministry of Health. Because of the demands placed on him, I received most of my help, whether in school or other things, from my brothers and sisters. I learned how to read and write by observing my older brother. There were very high expectations of all the children, and most important was our education and schooling — which was a bit ironic since my mother could not read. I was very active in sports and a bit of a rebel, but always maintained straight A’s growing up.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story?

In high school my brother, Salah, who was my closest in age older brother, was a very big bookworm. Every special occasion, we would buy him a new book. I used to sneak into his stacks of books when he was out, and read books from his collection. The book I still remember was Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It showed me that regardless of where you come from, what you look like or religious background — with hard work and dedication, plus a bit of luck and opportunity, anyone can be successful in their chosen craft. That idea allowed me to overcome many obstacles and find great success, especially after I came to the United States.

What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

In 1962, I arrived in the USA to pursue my PhD, while doing my medical residency at Washington University in St. Louis. Shortly after I arrived, everyone that I interacted with began to ask me about my family, my education, life growing up, medical training and all sorts of things — probably because at that time few people knew anyone who had grown up in Iraq. Everyone found the stories of my childhood, time in the army, and schooling to be fascinating, and always told me that I should write a book. As a physician, I never had the time to do it, but the idea stayed with me for more than 50 years. Now that I am retired, plus with the threat of COVID-19 I found myself confined to my home and decided that I should finally put those stories to paper and share them with the world.

What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?

Most people don’t know what a pathologist is, let alone what our role in medicine is. Many believe that the physician they interact with is the one who makes all the decisions. I hope by sharing my experiences, more people will have greater knowledge of the overall practice of medicine, especially the importance of a pathologist in the medical practices, in spite of being behind the scenes.

Did the actual results align with your expectations? Can you explain?

I believe that the book will illustrate that you can work hard and also be happy and love what you are doing, even after doing it for many years and becoming a recognized expert in the field. It also illustrates that teaching others, and then witnessing their success is very emotionally rewarding.

What moment let you know that your book had started a movement? Please share a story.

I can’t say that it started a movement, but rather placed a spotlight on a discipline in medicine that is so critical to healthcare. I believe that the movement towards increased transparency and education for lay individuals in the field of medicine and healthcare continues to gather steam, and this book provides an inside glimpse into what happens behind the scenes in getting people the proper diagnosis and treatments. I hope other physicians in other lesser known specialties will also share their stories so people can learn and make more educated decisions in regard to managing their own personal health situations.

What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book now? Are they the same? Different?

I continue to hear how fascinated people are in my life story, and also how much they didn’t realize how critical pathology is in medicine, especially for those concerned about major diseases such as cancer. I’ve also heard some personal and heartwarming stories from individuals where they have credited the pathologist for helping them with their own course of treatments.

What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book? Can you share a story?

Writing this book reminds me of the difficulty of making the correct diagnosis and paying attention to every detail. One time, a pathology resident asked me to elaborate and provide an example for the importance of details. I told him to just imagine yourself entering a living room filled with furniture, artwork, photos and more. This exact arrangement defines the diagnosis you will make, but if you just change the arrangement and move a piece of art, it’s very likely you would make a different diagnosis, which would result in completely different treatments and outcomes. In the book I described cases of cancer of the larynx and pseudoepitheliomatous hyperplasia. One is treated by laryngectomy and one by drugs. The tiniest detail on the slides will determine if an individual will ever talk again, or if drugs alone can treat the disease.

Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?

I think the book is biased toward academic medicine, university and teaching institutions, while many patients are treated in private hospitals, clinics or individual practices. I do believe that the focus on research and education allows for academic settings to be better equipped to handle and properly diagnose and treat the more complicated cases in the field of medicine.

Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?

Writers everywhere have an opportunity to shine a spotlight through stories on areas that require a focus — particularly where groups of people are suffering from wrongdoing and injustice that is prevailing at that time. Often these areas are spoken about, but a powerful storyteller can humanize the issues and provide relatable examples — sparking true change.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

I would say stay focused, be honest, authentic and persevere when faced with challenges. Finally, it’s always good to take a deep breath every once in a while to make sure you don’t get lost.

What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? Can you share the lesson(s) that you learned?

When writing about complicated subjects, and providing the detailed descriptions required in the field of medicine, it’s easy to lose the reader. Be sure to try and keep the narrative and focus, without losing the audience in all the details.

Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book? (please include a story or example for each)

I used to read a lot of books growing up, mostly fiction. Fictional books were always where you would get lost in a story, whereas non-fiction tended to be dry and somewhat boring. There are so many subjects that on the surface are dry or maybe even boring. I would like to see more books that combine the storytelling nature of fiction with the importance and truthfulness of non-fiction — that is when movements, social change wiIl happen. Things I would say to an author looking to spark a movement, is first to humanize the story so it’s relatable at many levels. Be authentic. Show the passion in your words and lead the audience. Finally, stay strong and don’t give up — you have a story to tell that needs to be told.

The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next? Can you explain why that is so important?

Freedom of speech and expression of ideas is core to who we are as a people. However, the narratives in social media are often allowed to move forward without fact. We need to educate without prejudice, share truthful stories, and allow individuals to choose what’s best for them without judgment. Only respectful dialogue, anchored in facts will allow us to see progress where it matters most.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I don’t have a social media presence, but my book is available here:

Thank you so much for these insights. It was a true pleasure to do this with you.

Thank you for the opportunity.

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