Enlightning communities across the globe | Sunday Observer
Zainab Ifthikar

Enlightning communities across the globe

25 July, 2021

Zainab Ifthikar is passionate about medicine, and through academics, she wants to serve many underprivileged communities across the world.

Moving to Saudi Arabia in her childhood, she and her family have not forgotten their Sri Lankan roots. They constantly support the country at any time of need, through their foundation, the MEI Foundation.

Zainab talks to Sunday Observer’s Youth Observer on driving in Saudi, medicine, the recent Women’s Achievement Award from McKinsey & Company and developing communities.

Q: What made you choose medicine as your career?

A: I fell in love with the magnificence of human biology. The adrenaline rush of understanding the mind-boggling intricacy of how we function is just inexplicable like finally, everything made sense in the world.

I am also a people’s person, and I enjoy interacting, expanding my network and helping out others. I wanted to choose a career that would fuel my knowledge whilst also merging my people skills and interest in community service. And there itQ: was the perfect amalgamation- Medicine.

Q: Tell us about your journey at medical school?

A: I am a final year medical student at the Alfaisal University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It is one of the leading medical schools in the Middle East and also ranks in the top 251-300th in The Times Higher Education World University Rankings. We are also recognsed by the SLMC.

Even after joining medicine, I continue to be an active person by partaking in all college activities. This was possible because of Alfaisal”s unique structure. They provide medical students with an unmatchable range of extracurricular activities through the Alfaisal Medical Student’s Association (MSA). I have participated in several MSA activities over the years; currently, I am serving as the director of MedTimes, the esteemed Alfaisal College of Medicine magazine, which is made from cover to cover by our medical students.

It is truly a world-class university with its diverse student body, faculty trained across the globe and has facilitated an avenue for our graduates to achieve high in board exams and match into residencies in Saudi Arabia, United States, United Kingdom, and Germany among other countries.

Q: Your study has taken you across the globe, and your books have given you a platform to voice yourself. Where do you get your inspiration from to lead a balanced life?

A: It would have to be my upbringing. Without my parents, I know for certain that I would not even be half the person I have become today. They made it very clear to me from an early age that they not only wanted to see me excel in academics but also flourish in extracurricular activities.

They encouraged me to nurture my interest in writing and public speaking. While my life isn’t perfectly balanced, I am learning to work through the ups and downs.

Q: You are one of the first Sri Lankan women in Saudi Arabia to get your driving license back in 2019, can you share something about that?

A: It was a great opportunity for me, and a monumental moment in history to see women driving in Saudi Arabia for the first time and to also be one of them. I felt safe driving here as there are many rules instated to support female drivers in the Kingdom.

Q: In 2015, you published a book about poverty titled Poverty Is Not Passivity and then you went on to publish your second book, tell us a bit about it.

A: Both my books were intended to bring out the emotions behind the underprivileged people in Sri Lanka.

My second book was published in 2019 titled Panacea Is Possible, and it was directed towards water contamination in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, it is now available on Amazon as well. All the proceeds from my book go to the MEI Foundation.

Q: What do you hope to do in Sri Lanka in the future?

A: I founded the MEI Foundation (motivation, encouragement, and inspiration) in 2016, an NGO based in Kandy. We have been doing small projects now as it is solely supported by my parents and family friends. I want to continue doing my philanthropic endeavours alongside my profession.

Q: As a doctor in which field do you want to specialise in and why?

A: I want to pursue a career in Internal Medicine. I became interested in it after my clerkship rotations at KFSH&RC.

I loved how IM was this huge umbrella that sheltered a multitude of subspecialties that dealt with multisystem diseases and interesting pathologies.

Q: Tell us about your current award from McKinsey & Company?

A: I was selected for the Women’s Achievement award 2021 by McKinsey & Company.

This is a world-renowned consulting firm based in the US but operates in over 65 countries. They host an annual achievement award and this year they selected me based on my two published books and community involvement.

The honour of this award goes out to the people who stood behind me and were fundamental to my growth.