Ever wondered what life in the UK is life for foreign medical professionals? In this blog, we talk to Dr. Sohail Quershi about his own personal career journey and experience of leaving his own country and joining the NHS.
Hi, Dr Qureshi! Could you please introduce yourself?
I’m Dr Sohail Qureshi and I’ve been working as Consultant Psychiatrist for over ten years, more recently at within the Acute Inpatient Ward for Males and Females at the Southern Health Foundation NHS Trust.
Where did you live before the UK?
I spent my childhood in Pakistan, and then after I graduated and obtained my medical degree, I decided to move to South Africa for a few years. After that, I moved to the UK in 2003 to start my basic training in Psychiatry.
What is your educational background?
When I arrived in the UK, I set out to complete my 4-year training-programme in Psychiatry. I became fascinated by Forensic Psychiatry; so, I studied a Master’s at St. George’s University of London and then a second one at King’s College London.
I worked in Forensic Psychiatry for over ten years. During this time, I had the opportunity to work as Medical Director and Medical Lead in large organisations as well as Chief Operating Officer of a national independent mental health organisation.
I have also worked as Medical Director of ID Medical; conducting appraisals, and developing peer support for locum doctors, providing mentoring and guidance for fresh locum doctors.
Recently, I’ve found a passion for writing, especially about improvements in the health sector, and to highlight the challenges the medical workforce faces daily. And so, I’m doing a third Masters in Journalism at Birkbeck, University of London.
Ideally, I want to create a national platform and raise the grave challenges confronting the NHS and the health sector. I want to acknowledge the great sacrifices of all our health workers, and to become the voice of crestfallen locum doctors and agency nurses. This will hopefully bring about much-needed improvements in the healthcare culture in the UK – which can only be a good thing.
Do you remember your first few days and weeks within the UK?
At first, it was very daunting and overwhelming. I had to adapt to a new culture, hospital setting and living in a different country! Things were somewhat different compared to working in Pakistan and South Africa – so, it took some time to adjust to life in the UK.
The NHS as a system was very different back then as there was not much in the way of structured support, advice or guidance. When I arrived, the hospital arranged a quick tour of the hospital, and my senior colleagues expected me to know everything, from the very word go. This was perhaps the most challenging part of my new career and life in the UK.
It also took me some time to get used to the various British accents; and I’m sure others would have found mine difficult too! However, I soon found a supportive peer group which helped me to learn, train safely and become accustomed to the wonderful British language.
What are your thoughts on life in the UK?
When I first arrived, the cold weather was not a shock to me as I was used to travelling to the UK. However, when winter struck and it was permanently dark, cold and gloomy, it took me a while to adjust. It was certainly very different from winters in Pakistan and South Africa.
I didn’t find the culture a big shock because I grew up in a Cosmopolitan area and I was used to travelling to different countries around the world. However, I did have to get used to normalities in British culture. For example, Brits are more reserved and do not share much personal information. It was something I had to adapt to, and perhaps I am a bit like that myself now, having lived here for over 18 years.
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What made you specialise in Psychiatry?
To be completely transparent, I wanted to go into medicine or surgery when I graduated from university. However, it transpired that those specialities would be hard to secure a training post. My overarching career plan was to become a consultant as soon as possible, and so, I opted for Psychiatry so I could progress my career.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed Psychiatry in my internship years because it allows you to look very closely at human behaviour and unique patterns of thinking while linking to both mental and physical health issues.
The two main things about Psychiatry are that firstly, it’s never dull! Second, it’s immensely gratifying to be of help in lightening the deep scars a mental illness leaves on a patient and family. A person with mental health issues is perhaps lost to the world, but not to their family.
Also, I’m amazed to see a large number of BAME medical professionals and students within Psychiatry – it’s great to experience different cultures and experiences.
How did you find sitting MRCPsych?
Of course, I found it very daunting and challenging. MRCPsych is not an easy qualification. However, I had excellent peer support and like with anything – with hard work, you will succeed.
My advice to junior doctors is that if you are due to sit MRCPsych, try and form a peer study group. The joint study is fundamental for this qualification, and it’s not possible to succeed in doing well while studying in isolation.
What is your experience of working within the pandemic?
Like everyone, it’s akin to an apocalypse! To create and expand capacity for patients with medical health issues, we had to ensure a safe and community care structure for inpatients. In the early days, it was exceedingly difficult to get people tested, receive PPE, and there was a massive fear of contracting Covid 19, from patients, peers, and practically from anyone.
The atmosphere was very gloomy and fearful. The saddening news of fallen NHS comrades accentuated the dark realities of life (and death).
Thankfully, the UK is in a better situation with the virus now, and the time passed has allayed initial anxieties and has brought fresher perspectives. I now value my life and my relationships a lot more.
My motto I rehearse daily is: “Every breath you take is a gift”.
Soon, we will start to see the development of remote and virtual consultations. I think remote working is an ingenious way forward; although it cannot replace face-to-face consultations completely. Remote working on the other hand, will decrease the burden on NHS staff in reducing travel to the hospital to see patients and will ensure timely clinical interventions; make technology your ally!
Do you have any advice for anyone struggling with their mental health during the pandemic?
Covid 19 is not the first pandemic to hit humans, and no virus has ever wiped us out – so, it’s essential to keep a positive outlook during these difficult times. Staying home can be very depressing, stressful and lead to feelings of anxiety, but there are different ways to deal with it.
First, I ask you to perform a deep reflection of the meaning of life itself and start to value the things that even bring you a small amount of happiness. Also, try and exercise daily! Yoga, walking, boxing or running are all simple physical activities that can make a world of difference to both your physical and mental wellbeing.
Remember to keep regular contact with your friends and family via audio and video calls to ensure you can visually see people – this will help you feel part of a journey with other people rather than being stranded alone on an island.
Second, try and remember to share when you are feeling stressed, worried or anxious. Share your deep fears, and you’ll find that many other people are experiencing the same thing.
Third, it’s good to stay updated with the pandemic and how we are fighting against it; but try and not do so too regularly that you end up feeling stressed.
Lastly, I ask you to follow my mantra I call POPT: The Power of Positive Thinking. Train your mind to think positively, unleash the hidden stores of energy by inner reflections and contemplations, and it will do magic for you to manage your feelings, emotions, behaviours, and actions in a calm and collected way.
Do you have any plans for the future?
I want to collaborate with ID Medical to help support doctors to work remotely, as that will be a new way of life for a while. It will require us to do a lot of thinking, private analyses, and strategy development to help us understand how we can overcome daunting challenges to equip our doctors to deliver their clinical service successfully.
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