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Meet SVdP's new medical director

Family tragedy spurred Dr. John Anwar to care for the underserved. He does so through SVdP.

When Dr. John Anwar was 10 years old, his mother gave birth prematurely to triplets. Living in a rural area of southern Egypt — what, in the 1980s, Dr. Anwar recalls as “the most forgotten part” in terms of health care — the family faced two choices:

Travel 500 kilometers (about 310 miles) to Cairo to a clinic with neonatal intensive care the family couldn’t afford or care for the premature babies at home with the help of a family practitioner. Because of financial constraint, the family opted for home care. Tragically, two of the babies died of pneumonia because of their underdeveloped lungs.

“I remember standing at the end of the bed,” Dr. Anwar said. “My mother was so sad. I said at that time that one day I will become a doctor and provide services and care for people who need access but cannot afford it.”

That personal mission and the recent partnership with Creighton University has brought Dr. Anwar, who is an assistant professor in the university’s School of Medicine Phoenix Campus, to St. Vincent de Paul as the new medical director of SVdP’s Virginia G. Piper Medical Clinic for the uninsured. Dr. Anwar also practices Internal Medicine at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center and makes monthly mission trips to Mexico to volunteer in charity community clinics.

“We see up to a couple of hundred people a day, some resembling the situation my mother was in,” Dr. Anwar said. “This work is what I do to pay back, to reach out to see communities like the one I came from. It started like that, and this is what I’ve been doing my whole life. It was triggered by lack of access to health care.”

At SVdP’s clinic, Dr. Anwar works afternoons helping underserved patients get access to the care they need. From there, he goes to St. Joseph’s to work the night shift.  

It was a long road to becoming the doctor he’d always promised his mother he’d be.

Dr. Anwar missed the bar for medical school in Egypt by 2.5 percent and ended up studying Egyptology and German linguistics to become a tourist guide. The 1997 Luxor massacre and terrorist attack in the Valley of the Kings, which killed 62 tourists and four Egyptians, was the day he decided he would hang his hat as a guide, move to the United States and pursue medicine again.

“When I came here, I took any job I could in the book,” said Dr. Anwar, who was nearing 20 then. “Security guard. Gas station attendant. Bus boy in a restaurant. Waiter. I put myself through school and chased the old dream.”

At 21, Dr. Anwar earned a grant to the University of California, Davis. He finished his undergraduate degree in molecular biology and biochemistry and then went on to Ross University School of Medicine. Dr. Anwar completed his third-year rotation at Good Samaritan Medical Center in Baltimore and his fourth-year rotation at Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, California. He went on to residency at St. Joseph’s in Phoenix, where Dr. Anwar earned a staff position in the Internal Medicine department. He’s been there ever since, later adding in his Creighton and SVdP roles.

But this isn’t Dr. Anwar’s first introduction to SVdP.

“I used to come to this clinic when I was a resident,” Dr. Anwar shared. “I’d come once a week on Friday to volunteer and see patients. This is how I knew about this clinic and the work that happens here.”

On his off time (something hard to imagine he has), Dr. Anwar is a handyman of household hobbies and projects.

“I do everything,” he teased. “I build a lot of stuff by hand — a shed, a chicken coop. I use a jackhammer to break up the ground. I build and maintain my own garden.”

He also raises chickens and sheep, which provide his family fresh eggs and meat in addition to the vegetables he grows. He loves Egyptian food but cannot resist tacos, and he listens country music. His favorite sport is soccer (football) and his favorite movie, “The Godfather.”

Happily married, Dr. Anwar and his wife have a five-year-old daughter together. Most of his family has migrated to the U.S. from Egypt over the years, including his parents and siblings. His father currently lives with him after they so recently lost Dr. Anwar’s mother to cancer.

While sad, Dr. Anwar finds peace in knowing he kept his promise to her and continues to live that promise every day at SVdP as he offers the best of his medical care to families in need.