An Interview With Prof. Dr. Sayeedul Alam Prince

Director of Institute Of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences, Prof. Dr. Md. Sayeedul Alam Prince, reflects on his early life, passion for serving people, growth of diseases like cancer, problems in our healthcare system, and real reasons behind the lack of innovation in science and medicine sector in Bangladesh, healthy living for busy people, and his advice for people who want to pursue medical profession.

Future Startup
I want to dive in at the beginning of your story. Where did you grow up? Tell us about yourself.

Dr. Prince in Radio Studio

Dr. Md. Sayeedul Alam Prince
I was born and brought up in Chittagong. I completed my primary and high-schooling from St. Joseph’s and Faujderhat Cadet College respectively. After my intermediate examination, I got into Chittagong Medical College and graduated from there in 1990.

After graduation, I went to Japan for higher studies. I stayed there for 6 years. I completed my Ph.D. on thyroid cancer from Kyoto University. Then, I was in a training program at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. Besides, I also have some other small training from the USA and Canada.

I have in total 9 international publications in various peer-reviewed journals. I guess that tells a bit about me.

By profession, I specialize in nuclear medicine. I treat patients mostly with thyroid-complexities. I’m currently the Director of Institute of Nuclear Medicine & Allied Sciences in Cox’s Bazar.

Future Startup
How did you come to be a doctor? Have you been always passionate about the medical profession?

Dr. Md. Sayeedul Alam Prince
I had this dream to be a doctor from my high-school days. But when I went to cadet college, everyone wanted me to join the army. But I didn’t, particularly like the lifestyle.

When I finished my college in 1983, I sat for the admission test for both BUET and medical college. And luckily I got selected for the both. It was a tough choice to make. But my grandfather made it easy. I remember him saying that ‘you should be a doctor because a doctor can serve even from her/his deathbed.’

Future Startup
Tell us more about your profession and the area where you’re working.

Dr. Md. Sayeedul Alam Prince
Nuclear medicine is a very broad field. We basically work with radioisotope which is used in the diagnosis and therapeutic treatments. We mostly treat patients with thyroid problems. In diagnostics area, we do a bone scan, Reno-scan, etc.

In the case of therapy, we give radioiodine treatment after surgery. It’s a very modern therapy for thyroid cancer which is proven to be very effective if a patient receives it regularly.

Besides, sometimes medicine alone can’t help people who have hyperthyroidism. For these patients, radio-iodine is the best therapy where the thyroid gland is burned down. It’s almost a permanent treatment.

Future Startup
We do not have any data as such but it seems that cancer is on the rise in Bangladesh.

Dr. Md. Sayeedul Alam Prince
Cancer has always been with us. The only difference is that it is getting diagnosed more often nowadays. If someone had a tumor in the past, s/he would most probably dilly-dally in consulting a doctor. But now everyone is getting more aware of their health. This is why cancer seems to be on the rise.

Said that, certain types of cancer are probably on the rise. In the past, our diet contained more vegetable items, but now consumption of red meat and fast food is increasing. And it poses a great risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Future Startup
What measures can people take to prevent these diseases?

Dr. Md. Sayeedul Alam Prince
In case of breast cancer, I would suggest women keep an eye for any abnormality (such as–lumps, asymmetrical sizes, and retracted nipple) on the breasts especially if there is a prior history of illness in the family. It’s called self-examination and it is quite easy. And if they find out anything suspicious, they must consult a nearby doctor. Early-stage diagnosis will save many later complexities.

Breast cancer usually develops in the late ages. Young women have little chance of developing this disease. Prolonged taking of birth control pills is a reason for two types of cancer: breast and cervix. This is important for women who are on birth control or any type of similar treatment that they check themselves on a regular basis.

Women should do a mammogram test once every year after they reach the age of 45. Although, it is a bit costly but there should be testing facilities set up in the cities. It is of course not costlier than life.

In case of thyroid cancer, I would like to make it clear that it is curable. If it is diagnosed and removed properly, and the patient receives correct therapy, a thyroid-cancer patient can survive. It is the only curable cancer at present. So, if there is any change in someone’s birth mole or development of a new lump on skin, s/he should go see a skin doctor or a surgeon right away.

In case of pancreas or stomach cancers, symptoms are not revealed soon. The patients also don’t understand that s/he might have a disease. In fact, we have nothing to do here really.

To prevent such cancers, we should eat less red meat and condiments such as–mayonnaise. Weight reduction is another way to be safe. You need to balance your diet and exercise regularly.

People who are exposed to radiation in workplace are particularly vulnerable to cancer. These people need to employ a technique called CLD or central lung distance which assesses exactly what amount of radiation one particular individual is exposed to. If someone is exposed to excessive radiation, s/he has the right to go on a radiation vacation. We have such facilities here in our institution. Doctors dealing with likely condition have option for such leave but till date, I don’t know anyone needing that leave.

Future Startup
Bangladesh has made very little progress in science and medicine in the past years. It is hard to come across that many groundbreaking works and innovations in this area. What do you think, what are the problems?

Dr. Md. Sayeedul Alam Prince
The main problem lies in our medical curriculum. It doesn’t promote research. The second problem is that the infrastructure needed for research is still very weak in Bangladesh. Only a few institutions are facilitating research here.

Moreover, research and all these works are hard while most doctors, with the due respect to all, are into making money.

I think the government is trying to do something in this regard. Very soon the salary for people who work in the basic science (like, physics, biology etc) areas will be double. I think this is a great incentive to encourage more people to go to basic science. Basic science is where we need more research because they have scopes but for practitioners, it is tough because we don’t get time to study after serving patients.

The main problem lies in our medical curriculum. It doesn’t promote research. The second problem is that the infrastructure needed for research is still very weak in Bangladesh. Only a few institutions are facilitating research here.Prof. Dr. Md. Sayeedul Alam Prince

Future Startup
You were talking about the profit-making culture in our medical system. There is a kind of medical-industrial complex and doctors and hospitals are more into making money than caregiving.

Dr. Md. Sayeedul Alam Prince
This is a huge professional-cultural problem. With the due respect to all, many people get into medical education just with the purpose of earning money. But there’s more to the medical profession than making money. I’m being very respectful to all and there are people who take on medical profession just to serve humanity but that number is slim.

Medical students abroad are taught a mandatory course on behavioral science which is not in our curriculum in Bangladesh. If we had made it mandatory and guided our students toward a more welfare-centric education, we wouldn’t have to see the degradation of doctors and medical system today.

When the students see their professors coming to classes late and enjoying a luxurious life with the high fees they charge to patients, students also get inclined toward making more profit.

We now need to teach our students that they must treat their patients as human beings, not merely a way of making money. They shouldn’t just treat the disease and exploit it but treat the patient.

Our doctors do not pay much attention to what the patient has to say. As a result, the patients’ lose trust on their medicines and visit multiple doctors for single diseases.

The rate of antibiotic resistance among Bangladeshis, which is increasing at an alarming rate, is also another outcome of this mistrust. Multiple consultant doctors prescribe different medication without studying patient’s previous history. A few courses on behavioral science and ethics should help the medical professionals to be more humane.

Future Startup
We have seen disturbing incidents to happen in the recent years. Complaints against private hospitals and doctors of maltreatment have been on the rise. It seems the system has gone rough and there is no one to regulate it.

Dr. Md. Sayeedul Alam Prince
The first reason behind this I think is that doctors do not want to spend enough time with their patients. Recently, a baby was announced dead by a doctor in Chittagong, which was found alive later. What if they buried the body? If the doctor had spent a little more time on the baby, it wouldn’t have happened.

Secondly, because of some corrupted brokers, medical profession has now become somewhat like a business. They deceive vulnerable patients in many ways. At government hospitals, for examples, it takes very little to do a hormone test. It is only Tk. 300 where I work. But, at some private clinics, this price can go as high as 900 taka. And, on top of that, often those test reports come out wrong.
The exact same thing happened in Chittagong a few days ago. A patient did a test on three different labs; and, each of the test reports came out to be totally different than the other ones.

What is most alarming about this is that the labs which run this type of flawed and erroneous facilities are not accountable to anyone for their faults. There is no punishment for wrongdoing. If this had happened in many other countries in the world, there would be enormous punishment on the involved parties.

But, in Bangladesh, we don’t have any kind of mechanism to ensure accountability. The government has a role here to play. Systems and regulations should be in place to deal with these sorts of wrong doing. If people and organizations that are doing these sorts of things get punished others would be discouraged from pursuing similar path.

Health advice for busy executives

Future Startup
What health advice would you give to busy people?

Dr. Md. Sayeedul Alam Prince
Take time for mild exercises like running on treadmills amid your work. It is critical that you maintain your health no matter how busy you are. At the end of the day, if you are not healthy you can’t do much.

Changing the eating habit is a great help too. A healthy diet can save you from many diseases.

Professional individuals often get caught up in their work and spend whole nights without sleeping. This is an awful habit. Sleep deprivation is the key reason behind problems like attention deficit disorder and incoherent behavior. Dr. Prince

Everyone should also try to be aware of what is happening to their body. If they sense any trouble, they should consult a doctor right away. By doing so, people can avoid future complications.

I’d like to mention another problem that we have here. We have no referral system in Bangladesh. In many countries of the world, when you go to a general practitioner [GP], s/he will never refer you to a professor if s/he thinks that s/he has the capacity to treat you.

In Japan, for example, you can’t just pay a visit to a tertiary-level doctor. You need to get a referral from the local GP first. If we had this system in Bangladesh, tertiary doctors wouldn’t have to look after this huge number of patients.

Future Startup
You were talking about the importance of diet.

Dr. Md. Sayeedul Alam Prince
It differs from person to person. Like, for an overweight person, the diet should contain more protein, liquid, and fruits, and exclude carbohydrate, such as–rice, potato, parata. To get all the benefits from vegetables, it should be cooked with less oil.

There are, in fact, two types of fat in our body: good fat and bad fat. We call it Low-Density Lipoprotein. This is a very risky type of cholesterol. There is another type called HDL or high-density lipoprotein. HDL benefits our body in various ways. It protects our heart. So, we need to eat foods that contain this HDL more and avoid LDL-rich items.

Let me give you an example. Say, you drink a bottle of Mountain Dew every day. Now, a 500-ML bottle of Mountain Dew contains as much as 14 teaspoons full of calories. But you are only consuming this much calorie but not burning it. It remains in your body and keeps getting stuffed. It can be very harmful to your health.

Future Startup
What advice would you give to give young people who want to pursue medical education?

Dr. Md. Sayeedul Alam Prince
Don’t come to this profession with the sole purpose of earning money and getting rich. Profit-drivenness is one of the biggest problems in our medical system today. If somebody wants to get medical education, s/he must have the dedication to serve humanity.

Yes, you can earn quite well working as a doctor. But, if you want to be a money making machine and probably a billionaire, I request you to go open up an RMG factory. But don’t come into the medical profession.

Enthusiasts should have a research mindset. Only studying the traditional treatment methods and treating patients will not speed up advancement in the field.

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