Dr. Omar Atiq, a retiring doctor from Arkansas gave a generous parting gift to his patients after his 30 years on the job. The Pakistani American physician forgave $650,000 in outstanding debts from nearly 200 patients.
Speaking to American Kahani, a humble Dr. Atiq said, “We were essentially
blessed with an opportunity and we took it.”
Talking to ABC Eyewitness News, Atiq said, “They’re like our extended families — there’s no higher honor than to serve as a physician, if I have been blessed to be able to help a little, then I am glad for it.”
Atiq had founded the Arkansas Cancer Clinic in Pine Bluff 1991. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported that Dr. Atiq, an oncologist who received his medical degree from Khyber Medical College, Peshawar, had closed the clinic in February 2020 after a staff shortage after nearly 30 years of providing cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Dr. Atiq knew that many of his patients were under heavy financial strain because of the virus. So, days before Christmas, the clinic sent out holiday greetings and told patients that any outstanding debts would no longer need to be paid.
“I hope this note finds you well,” wrote Dr. Atiq. “The Arkansas Cancer Clinic was proud to have you as a patient. Although various health insurances pay most of the bills for the majority of patients, even the deductibles and copays can be burdensome.”
“Unfortunately, that is the way our health care system currently works,” he added and informed patients that the cancer clinic was closing practice after over 29 years of service.
“The clinic has decided to forego all balances owed to the clinic by its patients,” said the note. “Happy holidays.”
His generosity received immediate appreciation on social media.
Ahmed, a netizen tweeted the following after reading the news. “MashaAllah (what God Wills) May God bless him, his family & May our health care system change, so people with serious ailments don’t worry about deductibles & copays, where doctors are neither limited because of Insurance coverage nor make decisions for financial incentives.”
Another netizen Iqbal Lateef, tweeted, “You know an individual is outstanding when the most gorgeous thing they have is compassion. Kindness is universal. This kind of act allows others to see virtue in a society through a person. Always be kinder and go beyond the call of duty.”
Atiq told Arkansas Online that he and his wife, Mehreen thought about it and looked at forgiving all the debt. “We thought there was not a better time to do this than during a pandemic that has decimated homes, people’s lives and businesses and all sorts of stuff,” said Dr. Atiq adding, “we just thought we could do it, and we wanted to, so we went ahead and did it.”
Atiq told ABC’s Good Morning America that he had worked with a billing company for months to collect any remaining payments from patients, but eventually decided to stop contacting them. The clinic then worked with the billing company to cancel the debt and ensure no patient who owed money would face any type of financial repercussions.
Originally from Pakistan, Dr. Atiq moved to Pine Buff in 1991 after completing a fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
“It really is fate,” he told Arkansas Online. I moved my family to Arkansas after receiving a call from Jefferson Regional Medical Centre with a job offer.”
He added that the decision to move was “life changing”. The doctor became the first non-white president of the Arkansas Medical Society in 2013 and in 2018 he was named chairperson-elect of the board of governors of the American College of Physicians.
“We have been very grateful. This has been home for a long time. We are grateful for the opportunity for what has happened to our lives here,” he said. “I believe the opportunities that have come my way are, in part, because of where I am.”
When the thought of forgiving outstanding debt first crossed his mind, Dr. Atiq reached out to executive vice-president of the Arkansas Medical Society, David Wroten.
Talking to Arkansas Online, Wroten said Dr. Atiq wanted to ensure there was nothing improper about doing it. “I can’t, for the life of me, imagine there would be.”
“If you knew Dr. Atiq, you would better understand. First, he is one of the smartest doctors I have ever known, but he is also one of the most compassionate doctors I have ever known.”
Dr. Atiq told Arkansas Online that his clinic had that amount of outstanding debt partly because “we have never refused to see a patient.”
“Not for lack of health insurance or funds nor for any other reason,” Dr. Atiq said. “I’ve always considered it a high honor and privilege to be someone’s physician – more important than anything else,” adding, “being sick is hard, having cancer is harder, and having Cancer in this pandemic is devastating.”
Taking to KARK.com, Dr. Atiq said, “I am just a regular physician – a regular person that they have in the neighborhood – just so happens to be me standing here. The ones struggling couldn’t pay, so we thought we could just write off the debt.”
The doctor says in a year where his patients have battled a lot, he hopes this will bring hope for a brighter 2021.
“I love them, I care for them, and I am glad I was able to do a little bit at this point for them,” said Dr. Atiq.
Speaking to American Kahani Dr. Atiq said, “I love them, I care for them, and I
am glad I was able to do a little bit at this point for them. It is a good feeling to
be of assistance to someone.”
The doctor is also a professor at UAMS College of Medicine and oncologist at the UAMS William P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.