Hailing from Pakistan, Dr. Usman Iqbal balances teaching, research, and international commitments from his base at Taipei Medical University, where he earned a Master of Business Administration in Health Administration and PhD in Health and Biomedical Informatics. A leading researcher and expert consultant in the field of global health informatics, he has been recognized for outstanding career achievements that include academic publication and journal editing, mentoring, international research collaborations, with honorary permanent residency awards from both Australia and Taiwan.
A great journey begins
Dr. Iqbal began his university education Doctor of Pharmacy program in 2005 at the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science, and Technology, selected as one of only 15 students to attend the prestigious Pharmacy traineeship program in the top private teaching hospital Aga Khan University Hospital at Pakistan’s. But experience in clinical setting led Iqbal to feel he could better make a lasting impact through raising standards of healthcare management.
So Iqbal scoured the globe for healthcare management programs. He was accepted into a master’s program at one of the universities in Finland, but that required two years of prior working experience to secure Erasmus Mundus scholarship. Not wanting to put his education on hold, Iqbal explored other options. His inquiries led to an email from an institution he was unfamiliar with at the time – Taipei Medical University (TMU). A bit of digging uncovered that TMU’s three affiliated hospitals were all JCI (Joint Commission International)-accredited, so now confident in TMU’s standard of medical care, Iqbal began the application process and was successfully awarded scholarship for master’s program. To make his biggest possible impact on healthcare, he would move to TMU.
Time was of the essence; he’d only found out about TMU a month before the application deadline. Although TMU helped get the ball rolling online, the process was complicated by the lack of diplomatic relationship between Pakistan and Taiwan. Combined with travel restrictions in the Middle East, documents had to be confirmed through the Taiwanese Economic and Cultural Office in Riyadh and a visa application made in Dubai. When his approved documents finally arrived, only a day was left to complete the application in person. Iqbal jumped on the very next flight to Taipei.
Welcome to Taiwan
Once on campus, Iqbal quickly settled into TMU’s multicultural environment. Professors were friendly and had no problems with English communication. Iqbal was introduced to TMU hospitals, and was encouraged by his supervisor to participate in cultural activities around Taiwan. Supported by his supervisor’s “exceptional ability” to bring out students’ potential, the year and a half master’s program passed quickly.
With the next goal a PhD, a new course in how cutting-edge technology in computing and artificial intelligence was beginning to revolutionize the healthcare sector stood out: “Health informatics.” “This is going to be the future,” Iqbal thought, and began searching for health informatics PhD programs at prestigious universities around the world.
Plans to move to another country did not work out. His potential supervisor in Germany would be away to the US for a year, and the University of Sydney couldn’t guarantee funding. Besides, Iqbal had his eye on studying under one of Taiwan’s foremost experts in medical informatics and AI in medicine, Professor Jack Yu-chuan Li.
Taiwan–a small country offering quality education
In line with Iqbal’s own interests, Prof. Li’s multidisciplinary philosophy encourages pursuing questions from across broad scope of research interests. The two were soon publishing cutting-edge research using “Big Data” from Taiwan’s national health insurance database for projects in tele-medicine, mobile health, and remote medical sensing. After four years working closely with Prof. Li, Iqbal had authored seven papers, coauthored over 20 more, and garnered media attention for work linking benzodiazepines to cancer. Iqbal was awarded a PhD in Biomedical informatics in 2016.
Dr. Iqbal stayed on at TMU after graduation, taking an assistant professorship at Global Health and Development program. Here he continues to take a multidisciplinary approach to biomedical informatics research with courses that attract master’s and PhD students from around the world. He’s published over 120 articles on a range of health care and management topics, edits for three academic journals, and participates in a long list of international collaborations, including the recently establishing the Taiwan chapter of Observational Health Data Science and Informatics (OHDSI) Consortium. He also teaches joint global health informatics courses in conjunction with MIT and Harvard and mentors at yearly Hackathons and Datathons.
Although COVID-19 may put a damper on classes and events, Dr. Iqbal is ahead of the curve. He’s moving courses online and is working towards virtual international seminars. He looks forward to supervising more students, and with his academic record an associate professor position is on the horizon.
The future for Dr. Iqbal at TMU looks bright. He’s eagerly awaiting results from research collaborations on topics ranging from neurofeedback training, to AI imaging in skin disease, to stress reduction. Even more, his joint research through the International Pharmacovigilance and the Smart Hospital projects is poised to change the way healthcare organizations around the world use electronic data.
The platform and support provided by TMU made Dr. Iqbal’s path to a prosperous career in healthcare management possible. Studying in Taiwan was right for him, but is it a path that others should follow? In his own words, “People are always thinking about where everyone else is going. They don’t consider that smaller countries can also have good quality education.” Coming to Taiwan may seem venturing into the unknown, but “I would encourage all students to take the opportunity to study in Taiwan.” For Dr. Iqbal, it was the right decision.