I’m Mohsen Mohamed. I’m an Egyptian Muslim, and I’m a physical therapist. I work in New York City and I like in Brooklyn. I’m married – just a few months ago – and I’m here.
I describe myself as a very determined, hard working Egyptian man. We’ve been raised in the Middle Eastern way that every single one is affected by two things. The first one is religion. The second one is family. I come from a lower middle class family where the main concern in life is education. And at the same time, we’ve been raised in the way that always build up on the basic principles of Islam, which is, hard work, education, mercy, love, compassion, all those things. So I can describe myself in three words – very determined, hard working, and compassionate.
I want my legacy to be: a very good man who raised very beautiful kids and worked hard for them, sharing the building of the country he loved, and at the same time making a mark in physical therapy science in the whole world.
Tell us about your career journey.
In terms of my career journey, I finished my bachelor degree in physical therapy in Egypt; I finished my college in five years, and the last year is a residency here. So after the bachelor degree, here comes the point – are you going to study more or are you going to just start working? So for me, the best decision in my life was that no, I still need more to study in physical therapy.
Here comes to the point of the Masters. So directly after one year from my Bachelor’s, I started the Masters. I finished my masters in three years and then I had the same question again – are you going to start working and focus on work now, or do you think you okay now, or you need time just break, or you think you still have the ability to continue what you're searching for? Do you have enough, or you still need more? So again came the right decision – yeah I need more. So it came back to physical therapy degree, but as I told you before it has to be here in America. I have to come here to America. I finished my DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) at Dominican College in 2014, and then I started working for a home care therapy and one of the best schools in New York City.
What are your top accomplishments?
I consider my top accomplishments to be three things. The first one is my family. I started a new family. I married a few months ago. I love my wife. I live here, she's in Egypt; I have to go back and forth every 3-4 months, and soon she's going to be here. Building this family is the best thing that has happened to me in my life.
The second thing is working for one of the best schools in New York City - Clarke School for Hearing and Speech. I work with kids, and believe me working with kids is completely different than doing any other thing in the whole world. When you work with this kind of purity, you feel that you completely ignore every single problem you have. Every single bad idea you had and just enjoying your life as if you are a kid. And at the same time you are helping them.
My third accomplishment is finishing my Doctoral degree, and for me this was the main purpose that I was working for. But after a while, I'm sort of now looking at something else I'm sort of looking at the PhD. When you accomplish something, you come to the point to understand that ‘yeah you worked hard, you did it.’ But you look at something else, you're going to start looking at something much higher, that you never thought that you could have – this idea about this thing. But it's steps. These are the three top accomplishments in my life.
How has your background influenced your success?
I've been raised in a lower middle class family in Egypt. For the middle class family in Egypt their main concern is education. So from the moment you are you born until you die, you have to be in something – you have to be studying something or learning something. So my dad, he was a merchant in Egypt. My mom, she was a housewife. But both of them, their main concern was how to get better grades, how to be a doctor; this is the main issue in the family. And regardless of any other thing, you can’t waste your time in any some kind of habit or something like that – for them playing soccer ball is some kind of wasting time. You have to be studying, studying, and studying.
So I've been raised in the way that our main focus is education. Then I finished my Bachelors Degree in Physical Therapy, and here comes the point of coming to America. Here in America we have a very special degree, which is the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Degree. It's not in any other place in the world, so if you want to finish this degree you have to come here, or you have to study this online. But of course it's not easy. So I came here, I started sequences for studying the DPT, and thank God now I have the DPT.
Tell us more about your Muslim background.
I think people are mistaken when they understand Islam through the actions of a very tiny minority of Muslims. No one represents Islam. I don’t represent Islam and no other one is representing Islam. Islam is a religion, having the same principles like Christianity, like Judaism; we are all working on the same things – mercy, compassion, love. We are here on this earth to build our communities and to live with each other in love and in sharing. But with Islam, it's different because people are used to looking at Islam through the actions of some Muslims. If you find somebody fighting in the street, you’re not going to ask yourself, ‘Oh does his religion inspires him to do that?’ But some people, they do it with Islam.
If two people have a fight for a parking spot, Islam has nothing to do with it. If very insane people – very tiny people that killed Muslims more than they killed from any other religion – is coming out on the media and saying they are Muslims, don't believe them. We are the real Muslims. We are more than a billion six hundred million who live in peace. And we have dreams, we have life to live, we love everyone. Don't look at them and stereotype every single Muslim you see. Get to know the person. You have to know them; and when you know them, you understand that Islam has nothing to do with those people and what they’re doing in the Middle East.
We have five prayers a day. In every single prayer, we have start with a specific citation of the Koran – we call this the Fatiha. It starts with Bismillāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm – it means, ‘in the name of Allah the most merciful, the most compassionate.’ Al ḥamdu lillāhi rabbi l-’ālamīn – ‘all gratitude to Allah, the Lord of all creators’ Ar raḥmāni r-raḥīm – ‘the most merciful the most compassionate.’ Māliki yawmi d-dīn – ‘the Lord of the Day of Judgment.’ Iyyāka na’budu wa iyyāka nasta’īn – ‘who you we worship, and who you we seek help.’ Ihdinā ṣ-ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm – ‘Oh God, guide us to the straight path.’ Ṣirāṭ al-laḏīna an’amta ‘alayhim – ‘the best of those who love them and bless them.’ ġayril maġḍūbi ‘alayhim – ‘not the path of those you angry with them.’ walāḍ ḍāllīn – ‘or the mislead people.’ This is the citation of the Quran where we have to start every single prayer with. If you look at this, you find the two words ‘the most merciful’ and ‘the most compassionate’ more than once in the recitation of the Quran. This is the real Islam and understanding of the Quran.
The first three words in every single prayer in Islam starts with two things: in the name of Allah, the most merciful, and the most compassionate. So when we pray, we have to say these words in every single prayer. So in your mind, you keep it in your heart, you keep it. It affects you whether you’re a doctor or you’re an engineer; you do any kind of job, you're going to be affected by these two words if you truly understand Islam.
So when I studied my degree in physical therapy, I worked with a lot of patients. Even some of them, they felt pain, they felt depressed, they don't like even see you, don't like to see any other medical professional. So the point here comes – how the Compassion you learned through your whole life stand with you at these points, when you stand in front of a patient door and he refuses to open the door for you, or when you work with a patient and he starts to yell at you and shout because he's in pain, or he doesn't think that you can help him. Here comes the point – that you have to understand that he is in a specific, very hard time. He's going through a lot of hard things. You have to stay with them regardless of what he's saying to you, what he's doing to you, you have to help them. And you help them, and then you go without feeling anything inside you – like you can have the same love and the same friendship with this patient as any other patient who is completely respectful for you and offering all the love for you.
So growing up returning these words more than 50 times a day – compassion and mercy –definitely it's going to affect your attitude. It's going to affect your morals. I can tell that people who have been raised in a way that their life is always fast, and they go from one place to the other place fast, and they have a lot of tasks to do – that's going to affect them. Just imagine people who have been raised from five years old with two words – mercy and compassion –definitely that's going to affect them in their life and job.
What are your thoughts on the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles?
Referring to the POLING principles, I have to admit that I didn't have any idea regarding POLING as steps and principles until I read the papers, but I can apply these papers to a lot of things in my life. Actually I can apply this to any goal, any accomplishments I have done in my life – let's say working here as a physical therapist.
Here comes the first one, the ‘P’ – the passion, the priorities. When I came here, I had a lot of ways to look at it; but here comes how to arrange my priorities. I wanted to finish a doctoral degree, so how do I do that? I needed first to finish the requirements for it, second to have money to study, third to have the time to study. So here comes the priority – the first one was, I have to pass the National Physical Therapy exam. This exam is a very hard one, you work hard to pass this test; some people get stuck in this test for two three years, and some people can’t even pass this test for their life. So I took the decision that my first priority is finishing this test; because this is my first step in my new life. So I worked hard, studied very hard, finish the test; I left everything in my life only for finishing the test. And thank God.
The second one is (O)thers. All that experience I got through studying for the NPTE (National Physical Therapy Examination) test for six months. I had a lot of friends who also had the same dream, but they don't know how to accomplish the dream – how to start even. They are always asking, are we going to pass this test? Is it hard? Is it hard for us to do it? Do we need to study more, or go to some kind of college? So it comes to the point that I have to convince them that if one can do the test, then the others can do that. There's no problem with it, just you have to work hard. And for me, my responsibility was I have to give them the materials to study – the textbooks, studying with them, if anyone has any issues with anything like neural orthopedic, whatever. Here comes the point that I have to explain to them, I have to stay with them more until I make sure that they did it. Thank God – I had two friends at that time – thank God both of them now they are PT, they are working.
The third point is the (L)ead. I told you the first time that I had to take the test and this was my priority. And then I had to help some friends to pass the test. So now we have more than four or five. Here comes the point to have some kind of (N)etwork to help others to get to this point and pass the test. And at that time I can tell that I was one of the first in my class to come here, so I had a lot of responsibilities with them because they were always asking me what do we do in this, and what should we do in this. So after that, I became some kind of a big brother for some of them, that ‘he just did the things they're going to do, he went through it, and he had some kind experience.’ So that’s the third one for the Lead. I start with myself, working hard to pass this test. Then now I'm talking about more than fifteen or twenty friends, and working to get the same thing that I have done in the first month in my life in America.
Referring to the “I” and inspiring people, I can tell that I am more inspiring for my friends in my city, in my village in Egypt. Because for them, their biggest dream was finishing your education, having your own practice, staying in Egypt, getting married, that's it. Don't think about going abroad or get to know other cultures or work in a completely different system. But when I did it, I see in the eyes of a lot of people in my village – especially in my village – they have the same look I had before. I once had to look at somebody – he was here in America, he was a doctor, he was here in America. And I was a kid, I was in high school at that time, I saw him and I had some kind look that one day I'll be like this guy. And when I go back to my country now for a trip or for my family, I see the same look and I see completely smaller people and I think they are going to do a lot of things. And it was an honor for me to be inspiring for any one of them.
Regarding the (N)etwork, we go on from finishing a test to start helping other friends to go through this test, and then I got an opportunity from a doctor. He was looking for somebody who had some kind of manual therapy skills to work with them. So we had this ad, and I had another friend who told me, ‘why don't you go and talk to him?’ I went to see him and talked to him, and he not only offered me a job, he offered me to finish my papers - for me this was a very good idea at that time. I finished my papers and then after working together for 2-3 years, here came a lot of networks, a lot of friends that offers you a lot of opportunities. I was working first in outpatient therapy, and then I transferred to work in a home care therapy – one of the most responsible and good agencies in New York City – and from the agency I started working in schools. And now I'm working in one of the best schools in New York City. So I think that having a network that not only helps others, but you help others, and you find out that at the end you come out with the idea that you are helping yourself. That was the same thing.
The last letter, which is (G)row. We started here with a very few number, maybe like 10, 15, 20 maximum Egyptian physical therapists. In the past few years we are now more than 200 physical therapists from Egypt. From one country, working together having some kind of mutual goals for themselves and the country here. They are helping a lot of people in New York City; they’re building their dream and building the country here at the same time. So I can tell that moving from 15, 20, to 200 in just a few years – five, six years – that's an amazing thing.
Regarding pushing yourself to do the right thing, we've been 15, 20, now we’re more than 200. Every single one of them has his own lifestyle, his own way of thinking, and his own experience – have been through a lot of different things. You will gather all the experience from those people. Let's say if I have some kind of issue with diagnosing something with a patient, I know whom I should call. At the same time, I see one or two of my friends – they are pursuing the PhD – I had the same goal for them, I had the same dream that ‘oh why didn't I do like them, I should do the same.’ We are helping each other. If one can do something then the others can do the same thing.
Tell us how the P.O.W.E.R. matrix applies to you.
Regarding the POWER story, let's start with the ‘P’, which is priorities. I see that in my life there are two main priorities here. My family is the first one and my work is the second one. How to arrange my time here, there is a six hour difference between Egypt and America. How to arrange my time, keep myself on the top of everything of my family's life while I'm staying in another place in the whole world. And here we move on to the (O)bligation – how to be 100% responsible and completely feeling safe for your family when you’re you're not with them on the same spot. That's why I have to go back and forth to Egypt every two, three months to make sure that everything is good. It's not only making a phone call or just being with them during the hard times; you have to be with them even at the good times, and you shouldn't miss it whatever the cost is. So regarding my obligations, I feel that I'm doing my best.
I think the (W)orthwhile in this context is having my family feeling happy even if I'm not with them for the whole time. The second thing is improving my career – moving from one step to the other step. So I start working with an outpatient therapy for a few hours, and then I start working in home care therapy, and then I'm working in home care and in schools too. And soon, I'm going to open my own business so it's worthwhile I think – having a good family life and personal family life and having a good professional lifestyle. These are the two main things in a man's life.
In terms of (E)nergy, I think if you work on something you love, you are never going to feel tired. The second thing is, if you give your family the attention they need, you're going to be very happy. I'm putting my whole effort in these two things, and at last I found out that this is what keeps me alive. Working, waking up at 6:00 a.m. in the morning and going back home by 7:00 am. I can feel tired physically, but I never feel tired emotionally. Staying with my family the whole day on the phone and traveling to my country every two months, I may feel tired physically, but I feel completely satisfied emotionally. I came back as a new man every time. I am ready to work for 14 or 18 hours if possible. I think that of your goals, these are the ones that give you the energy.
In terms of (R)esources, I think I'm now in a stage of my life – that this is the stage of working hard and getting more money. When you work hard, you get in more money, then we move on to the next step in life, which is you build your own business. And you don't work that much hard, where you get much more money. I am now in the first step. I'm working hard, and working hard in such a very good profession like physical therapy gives me the proper resources for traveling a lot to my country, taking care of my big family. And I never forget myself too. I'm here, I know that I have to be in good health. I go to the gym every day, try to keep my muscles healthy as much as I can, and at the same time try to get away from any kind of stress or something like that. That keeps me going forward.
When has your background posed a challenge?
In terms of my background, I've been through a lot of challenges – especially since I'm an Egyptian Muslim Arab, and this is not easy here. I remember – this happened one time with me - I was working with a patient. I saw her for the first time, she was a 90-somthing years old lady; she was from Poland and she'd been through the Holocaust. I was working with her and she had an ache. So after I finished my evaluation, I sat to talk to her; she asked me this question, ‘what language do you speak? I told her I speak Arabic. She said ‘but you’re Egyptian.’ I said yes, in Egypt we speak Arabic. She said ‘but you’re not an Arab.’ So I said no I'm Arab. She said ‘you’re Egyptian,’ I said yes, I'm Egyptian Arab. She said ‘I thought that Egyptian is completely different than Arab.’ I told her that ‘have you ever met an Arab before?’ She said, ‘no, actually I've been through some people I know from the deli, but I’ve never been with an Arab before.’ And I asked her, ‘do you think that you like Arab now?’ She said, ‘don't get me wrong, it's just you look so nice to me and you know this is a very good thing for me that I know you now.’
So the point is, my name ends with Mohamed. And here in America, some people have the idea that ‘Oh, Muslims, Arabs, they’re coming here. What do they want? They cause a lot of problems in the Middle East and the whole world.’ They don't get to know the real ones that are in front of them; they don't get themselves the opportunity to know one and just figure out that this man is a nice guy or a kind man as anyone walk in in street. And looking to accomplish goals in life and helping of his society and his community working as an Egyptian Physical Therapist, with a very clear name like Mohsen Mohamed for me was challenging, but I have to admit that I love this challenge because I love to see the appreciation of people's eyes after finishing working with them.
Who are the people that have influenced you?
In terms of influence, I think my dad was the most important person in my life. My dad, he worked hard raising five kids, getting them all the things they needed. He never thinks about himself – I can tell that he can spend the whole year without even remembering himself. He just worked hard, taking care of every single detail in our life, and at the same time he built up our personality in a way that we have to understand that the real thing in life is having a good family, loving each one, and forgiving. He was a very nice man; he never had any argument with anyone I can remember.
My dad made sure that we had a very good education. He had the same point too, that when you make a mistake he has to explain to you that this is a mistake. He has to make sure that you understand completely that this is not good for you. So in your future life you are going to be more able to know the right from the wrong. And for him I think the right from the wrong was never hurt anybody or hurt yourself. Just love everyone and love yourself too.
What career advice would you give your younger self?
I think if I were younger, I would advise myself – don’t wait too much for change. I had a plan and I waited for like three, four years start to start my life here. If I were younger I would ask myself not to wait for a change. Once you have an opportunity, once you have the idea, once you understand that this idea is the right thing to do, just do it. Don't wait for anything else.
What is your call to action?
The first responsibility of Muslims is, I think we need to be more open to the communities here, without fear that they misunderstand us. The one who is wearing a hijab and walking in the street should know that she is the same – she just practices her freedom for wearing what she wants, but she has the same rule in life here in America. She should go, she should share in the social events; she shouldn't feel that she is different. We need to be more open to the communities in America. Every other community, they start having some kind of roots here in America – the Asian, the African American, every single one has its own roots in America. We need to know that we have to build up these kind of roots here. We're going to do that through our social events, getting engaged in other issues like politics, like other social activities. We have to know that we are no different than any other one here.
The other thing, the other responsibility comes on the other person. Don't stereotype anyone. Don't take an idea about a certain group or people or religion or race. It's not good. Not all the Germans were like Hitler. Not all the Muslims are like those insane people in the Middle East that killed or rape or whatever. You have to stop stereotyping and look at the person who is in front of you, and then you will understand that there is no difference. We are all the same. We have the same ideas, the same fear, the same dreams, the same love, the same goals, everything.
I think that organizations have bigger opportunities than persons. They have much bigger resources, they have a lot of people that do the work. One person can make a difference, but a hundred people – are going to make a much bigger difference. I think regarding organizations, I don't think that we should focus on one thing – like a Muslim organizations should only focus about Islam and clarifying the Islam for other people. A work organization working on profession and they don’t have any social or any economical support for something like that for people. I think that we should have some kind of bigger scope for help in our society. You have to understand that this our country, that's our society. We may be a professional organization but we have the money to help in building schools, or health and others, so we should widen our scope.