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Valuing and connecting with our diversity – Everyone has a story

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Lyndsey York Henize

Sofia Khan, MD, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Decatur Hospital and Emory Hillandale Hospital

Around the DeKalb Operating Unit (DOU), Sofia Khan, MD is known for being the Chief of Emergency Medicine at Emory Decatur Hospital (EDH) and Emory Hillandale Hospital (EHH). Sofia was born at Emory Decatur Hospital (then DeKalb General) and raised in Atlanta, GA, and has worked with the DOU for 16 years. Sofia's parents immigrated to the U.S. from Karachi, Pakistan in 1970. Her father's background was humble as he grew up in a house made of mud and would share stories describing the walls dripping when it would rain. Her father came to America to find a better life for his children and was very successful after starting his own company. Sofia says, “He worked hard to make sure his children could get an education and have a better life.”

When asked how being Pakistani affects her professional life, Sofia mentions that a big part of her heritage is having a solid work ethic. "There is a certain work ethic that's drilled into you because your parents have given up so much by moving to a whole other country," Sofia explains. She shares that the Pakistani community, as a whole, is centered on education and helping each other have a better future. It is common for the community to work together and ensure everyone has access to mentorship and help if they're interested in specific careers.

For Sofia, the lines between being American and Pakistani blur, but she is hugely influenced by standard Pakistani cultural practices like being hospitable and giving to charity. She says that in Pakistan, charity isn't giving to those in need yearly, but giving to underserved communities weekly. In the same sequence, Sofia says that Pakistanis entertain guests a lot. "Growing up, we would have anywhere from 40-50 people at our house every weekend for big parties and big dinners," she says. She explains that her parents used this time to connect her to heritage even though they were living in America. Today, she connects with her heritage by having lots of dinner parties with other Pakistani families. "I want to make sure my kids know other kids that look like them and have similar culture as them so that we can keep that [their Pakistani heritage] alive," Sofia says. She wants her children to have a good blend between their American and Pakistani cultures.

When asked if she has faced any adversities because of her Pakistani heritage, Sofia shared that she believes most of her challenges stem from being a woman rather than Pakistani. She does note that after 9/11, she faced adversity because of her religion. "Before 9/11, I would tell everybody that I was Muslim, and I was really proud of it. After 9/11, I was really careful who I shared that with because of the negative impact that 9/11 had and the islamophobia that occurred after," Sofia says.

Sofia is currently celebrating Ramadan, a holiday that occurs during the ninth month of the Muslim year and involves fasting from sunrise to sunset. "I'm a very spiritual person, so I feel that God gives me the courage to fast. It's difficult, but we do it to remind ourselves what we have been given, especially thinking about people's primary need for food," Sofia describes. Sofia believes that fasting for Ramadan makes her a more emphatic doctor. "Because I am hungry and yearning for something, when I have a patient who's yearning to feel better, I think it increases my empathy for them."