Leadership springs from adversity

by Taimur Mirza

Staff and associate specialist doctors rarely find themselves in NHS leadership positions, but one doctor got into such a role through hard work and determination

Location: UK
Published: Thursday 24 September 2020
Busy hospital with blurred figures moving through a reception area

After finishing my anaesthesia and critical-care training in the Pakistan armed forces, I was posted to a border town in Kashmir.

I was suddenly dealing with bomb blast and gun-shot injuries. I was the only anaesthetist 24/7 on call. I was not even able to go anywhere owing to my commitment to my profession. I had to hire an anaesthetist from a neighbouring hospital to relieve me so that I could take my IELTS exam in Islamabad. I secured admission to an MSc in anaesthesia and critical care medicine.

I took release from the armed forces and sold my assets in Pakistan to afford the MSc fee and lodging in the UK. Professor Harmer helped me get PLAB (Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board) exemption so I started my SHO (senior house officer) training in a small hospital in Merseyside. Thereafter I got two years’ secured SHO training in Waterton School of Anaesthesia in South Yorkshire. In 2001 I was offered a post of staff grade anaesthetist in one of the trusts in Greater Manchester.

In addition to my own duties, I am a keen volunteer worker. I went to Pakistan in 2005 for earthquake relief work and saved 28 limbs from being amputated. Similarly, in 2008, I went for other relief work for flood victims. My voluntary work introduced me to the Association of Pakistani Physicians and Surgeons UK. Later I was elected president of the association for three years.

I did courses such as Train the Trainers and Clinical and Educational Supervisor. I went to university hospitals to teach chest drain insertions and CVC insertions to core medical trainees. I soon became the clinical supervisor of core trainees. Such roles not only give you the monetary gain in terms of additional SPAs (supporting professional activities) but also provide you with a sense of achievement. Most consultants think staff, associate specialist and specialty doctors are not eligible to become educational supervisors, but with appropriate skills and qualifications, you can become an educational supervisor. This is mentioned in guidance for the development of SAS doctors.

There are many opportunities that can bring SAS doctors to the front line. In 2014, I was selected as trust SAS Lead. I remained in the post for five years. While in the post I helped my fellow colleagues achieve their CESARs. I organised many CPD study days at my Trust for SAS doctors. The SAS lead role had put me in direct contact with the highest management of the trust and deanery. As SAS lead I also became a local negotiating committee member and represented SAS doctors. One of my great accomplishments as SAS lead was to get a SAS doctor on to the selection panel of interviews for SAS doctors and consultants.

I got training as an appraiser and became Trust appraiser in 2016. Since then I have appraised SAS doctors and consultants across all the specialties. I was then made a member of the trust revalidation committee. This exposed me to yet another level of trust management.

I then got another opportunity for career development and was selected as the guardian of safe working. This post looks into the trainee rotas and protects them from being overworked and abused by senior doctors.

Everyone has a leader hidden in them. It depends on the individual how he or she utilises their abilities to become leaders. Normally, SAS doctors are considered as workhorses of the trust. Previously the Trusts never encouraged the SAS doctors to attain leadership roles. Ever since the introduction of SAS doctor-development guidance by BMA, the trusts started giving importance to this grade of doctors. I must reiterate here that SAS doctors must come forward and take up leadership roles. These roles can be in the form of lead role in the department, clinical supervisor, appraiser, representing SAS in LNC, or involving yourself in education.

Finally, in early 2019, I got an opportunity to apply for a consultant critical care post in my trust. With all the above on my CV I was in a much better position as compared with other candidates who applied for the post. My colleagues supported me and as Trust management knew me very well, with all the above support I got the locum consultant post.

This is my second year in the consultant post and I ask my SAS colleagues to come forward take up the leadership roles and become champions in their fields.

Good luck

Taimur Mirza is a consultant anaesthetist at Tameside & Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust

Read the NHS Employers SAS development guide