Thirty Years of APPNA
By Nayyer Ali, MD
Huntington Beach, CA

This summer marks the 30th anniversary of one of the pillars of the Pakistani-American community, APPNA. APPNA, the Association of the Pakistani Physicians of North America, was incorporated in August 1977, and has had steady growth since then.
It was only natural that the rising tide of Pakistan-educated physicians coming to America would form a professional organization. The changes in US immigration laws in 1965 opened the gates, and larger and larger number of physicians sought training and a better life in America. Over the last 40 years over 10,000 physicians trained in Pakistan have come to the US. In many localities their combination of education and economic success made them the focal point of local projects, particularly mosque-building and community organizing.
APPNA was formed to create a national professional organization. Starting from a small base it now has several thousand members. It publishes a journal, organizes educational programs, and has a well-attended annual convention. The past-Presidents of APPNA reads like a “Who’s who” of the Pakistani-American community. Pak-PAC, the major Pakistani political action committee was started by APPNA.
APPNA faces a number of challenges in moving forward. First is the usual politics involved in these sorts of organizations. There can sometimes be personal rivalries and competitions that can do more harm than good for the broader membership. Secondly, there is a new generation of Pakistani-origin physicians who were born and raised in the US and attended American medical schools. How is APPNA going to appeal to them and make a compelling case for these second generation doctors to engage the organization? A third challenge is political and religious. The disputes of “back home” can sometimes spill into the American arena. Pakistani politicians and generals care about the views of Pakistani-Americans, and getting the tacit endorsement of organizations like APPNA can be very valuable.
How should APPNA approach these issues, if at all? Is it even really possible to be neutral on these questions? Simply giving a platform at the convention to a politician is a tacit form of support, especially if not extended to his or her opponents. Finally, APPNA has to sometimes deal with the thorny issue of religion. Although the vast majority of Pakistanis are Muslims, there are some (including one Supreme Court justice, a very prominent newspaper columnist, and even members of the national cricket team) who are not. Should APPNA therefore avoid supporting or honoring Islamic traditions at its events such as Qur’anic recitations? This issue did come up recently at an APPNA dinner, and so it is not just a theoretical point.
APPNA has to its great credit become very active in humanitarian work. Not just earthquake relief but also ongoing human development projects are supported by APPNA.
The next thirty years will hopefully be even better for this organization. If it can overcome its challenges and develop a focused set of goals and priorities, it can be a strong pillar of the Pakistan-American community.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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