Limitless Man: Doctor, Entrepreneur, Photographer and Soon to be Trapeze Artist

Saad Chughtai is the type of guy that will have you laughing one minute then contemplating how to solve a country’s problems the next. His passion for life and making change is contagious. He has already begun to make quite an impact and his unique journey, big goals, and incredible work ethic promise even more down the road. Read on to discover the ways in which Saad is limitless.

Saad’s Roles/Work/Hobbies:

  • Studied Medicine at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne and completed Foundation training as a junior doctor in the NHS, England
  • About to begin a Master’s degree in Health Policy, Planning & Finance (LSE, LSHTM), with an interest in developing sustainable solutions for healthcare delivery in low/middle income countries
  • Studied Healthcare Management at Tanaka Business School in Imperial College
  • Previously worked as an Event Photographer
  • Agrotechnology enthusiast fascinated by aqua/hydroponics and permaculture
  • Soon-to-be trapeze artist
  • Budding social entrepreneur and Trustee of ApaJee, a non-profit championing the development of healthcare & education in Pakistan. ApaJee has also provided aid to numerous individuals in disaster-affected areas within Pakistan.

apajee nonprofit

1. What are you currently doing or working towards that you would like to tell us about?

I’ve just completed my training as a junior doctor in the NHS (England’s public healthcare service) and am off to pursue life as a social entrepreneur! I love the idea of developing healthcare & education so I’ll be focusing on that for the next couple of years. I’m going back to school next month to surround myself with lots of clever people who work in the world of healthcare policy, planning & finance. I’m hoping they can help me understand how best to design high quality sustainable hospitals for low-income countries.

I’m also working on a business plan for a Human Resource agency that will provide technical skills to people, particularly refugees. We want to help them find well-paying jobs with fair rights in countries where demand for their skills is high. It functions like any other business but all the profits go back into the company or are invested in the local community.

Oh, and I’m starting an aerial trapeze course at a circus school next month. I cannot wait!

2. Who or what has inspired you to do all of this?

I guess it all started with my dad: he’s a self-made man from a poor family with lots of dependents in the North West of Pakistan and he has a heart of gold. He’s now a businessman in Dubai with his own engineering firm. The story I tell everyone is that he had a heart attack-induced midlife crisis about ten years ago and realized that he hadn’t done much for his town back home in Pakistan. So he impulsively bought a plot of land downtown and decided to build a hospital.

Unfortunately, he had no idea how to set one up and turned to me for help. (I was 18 and in my first year of medical school at the time!) It’s been on my mind ever since and I’ve given the project a lot of thought: How do you sustainably provide healthcare to poor people? We really wanted to avoid making it reliant on donations. So for the last 8 years(!) I’ve been talking to doctors, nurses, academics, architects, planners and more for help and advice. I even visited Cuba at one point. (They have a very efficient healthcare system.) The hospital is still a work in progress but I’ve learned an incredible amount in the process: particularly patience, perseverance, planning and the importance of timing and credibility.

The decision to become a doctor was a practical one: human beings are similar all over the world. We all need help when we’re ill and at our most vulnerable. Understanding how the body works, what ails it and how to support its recovery allows me to help people anywhere. I think it’s one of the most useful skills I can equip myself with in life.

Circus school was a spur-of-the-moment decision borne of my desire to overcome my fear of flying/falling, so I’m going to learn aerial rope & trapeze.

Saad Chughtai

3. What drives you to go beyond the norm and put so much time and effort into doing so many different things?

Not to sound morbid but my own impending demise drives my life. Life is far too short not to have fun, try new experiences, take risks and make mistakes. It’s a constant battle trying to balance living in the present with planning for the future and trying to stay alive, dry and comfortable. 

4. What challenges have you faced in pursuing these different interests and goals, and how do you balance it all?

The first challenge in working on all of this was taking the first step. That old saying about first steps is spot on, making a start when you have no idea what you’re doing is quite tricky, you just have to wing it.

Keeping the momentum going hasn’t been easy either. Talking to people about it can be even worse! Idea after idea, draft after re-draft, letter after letter, demoralizing reactions have varied from skeptically raised eyebrows (which often elicited defensive emotions) to glowing praise and encouragement (which sometimes stirred feelings of shame and feeling like a fraud).

By far the biggest difficulty has been coming to grips with ‘failure’ and reframing the concept. I’ve ‘failed’ so many times in my attempts to move forward with these projects that I’ve become comfortable with the idea of failing and learning from my experiences. Every attempt forced me to refine my ideas, introduced me to new people and taught me something new.

5. What specific steps did you have to take to get to where you are today?

Being quite young, I’ve spent most of my life in full-time education. Here are the steps I took to get where I am today:

I graduated from high school. Universities look for a ‘well balanced student’ which means getting good grades while demonstrating you have a passion for something outside of studying. (It’s best to join a group, take part in a project, start a club if none exist.)

I’ve been interested in photography ever since I was in primary school, but it really took off at university.I contact an agency who was hiring photographers. I started working for them at a few clubs up in Durham (England) on weekends, taking photos and selling photo souvenir key rings. I’d meet all sorts, it was hilarious, great fun! It really brought me out of my comfort zone and taught me how to pitch and cajole a sale.

I’ve travelled a lot, which has given me perspective.

Saad Chughtai

I learned a lot during my 5 years at medical school.

I went to business school for a year on the side. It changed my life, showing me how to structure my thoughts.

6. Did you ever imagine doing things like this as a teenager? How have you changed since those adolescent years?

Never. Adolescence was about ‘finding myself’ and figuring out the meaning of life. I took myself very seriously back then. I have since mellowed out a lot.

Saad

7. Is there anything you would tell your teen self if you could go back in time?

Take more risks, make more mistakes but learn from them. Don’t be afraid to fail! Try to make a go of crazy, hair-brained ideas. It gives you a sense of what is actually achievable and what’s a waste of time.

Find good friends. Treat them like family, and keep family close.

8. Are there any other jobs, roles, or goals that you want to pursue in the future?

Yes, I’m fascinated by perma/polyculture and agricultural technology, particularly hydro/aquaponics to grow food. I suspect I’ll be involved in that industry in the next 5 years.

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