For the past three years, Dr. Mohammad Bakir has lived in New York, completing his medical residency at a Brooklyn hospital.
He came to realize that he didn’t even know his neighbors, and that when he walked down the street saying “Good Morning” to people, no one really returned his greeting.
So, when he began seeking employment as a pediatrician, he started looking at small towns. He toured a few, and eventually visited Lompoc. “The strength of community is what I’m looking for,” he explained, adding that he loves the outdoors. “In small communities, you get to build relationships, not just with parents, but with everyone around you.”
Dr. Bakir was raised in Damascus, in the capital of the Syrian Arab Republic, and likes being able to say “hello” to people as he walks down the street. Lompoc seemed the right choice.
“To me, I came here because I want to be able to feel like I’m home,” he said. “I want that community, that family feeling, that personal touch. I don’t want it to be just a number, a job, you’re here and you’re out.”
He did consider other towns, but they were a bit too rural, he said. “This has a small down feel with a big city everything,” said Dr. Bakir, who earned his medical degree in Dominica.
Since childhood, it was his dream to be a doctor, he says. But as he began his undergraduate work at California State University at Northridge, he moved away from medicine and began studying field biology. As the economy faltered, those types of jobs were sparse. He moved on to biochemistry, but learned quickly he was more interested in interacting with people than he was with lab work. So back to the dream of medicine he went.
“I was always interested in pediatrics,” he explains. “My childhood pediatrician is the one who made me want to do pediatrics. I was a sick puppy as a child. I was always a sick baby.”
He attributes some of the illness to the fact that as an infant, he would not breastfeed. On an almost weekly basis for all the childhood illnesses -- until he was about 14 – his mother took him to see the pediatrician.
“He’s the one who made me feel that he is not a doctor; he was just like an older friend,” says Dr. Bakir of the physician who passed away last year. “He would crack jokes. I have adopted his style of exam, so the child does not feel I am actually examining the child.”
He said he likes to get down to the level of the child patient, which to some parents feels as if he’s playing rather than doing medical assessments.
“I tell the parents, ‘I’m not playing. I’m actually examining your child.’ That style makes me feel that’s what a pediatrician should be. If you come in and (act stern), that’s what built the ‘white coat’ fear of doctors.”
Instead, he said, he prefers not to wear a white lab coat while seeing children, and he’s been known to dress as a cartoon character while seeing pediatric patients in the hospital.
As he sat in the hospital walking, an LVMC employee walked past and said “Good morning.”
“See?” Dr. Bakir noted. “That’s what I wanted.”