When I was 10, my father took me to see an ENT surgeon in a local hospital for tonsillitis.
The equipment in the clinic room and the doctor’s headlamp mirror sparked my curiosity enough to distract me. The doctor’s careful examination and smiling reassurance left a lasting mark. As a good science student, I’d been torn between a career in medicine or in engineering. My childhood experience at the hospital led me to choose medicine.
While studying medicine in Shimla, a beautiful Himalayan city, student life was hard but instilled resilience and determination. After graduating, I began a postgraduate degree course in internal medicine. My professor was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in the UK, which inspired me to start preparing for the PLAB (professional and linguistic assessments board) test and MRCP UK.
Just before coming to the UK, a sudden illness in the family required my savings for private treatment. This meant I had to borrow money from friends for plane tickets and exam fees. It strengthened my desire to work in the NHS, as it is publicly funded and free at the point of delivery.
I still remember the goosebumps followed by immense joy on the day I found out I had passed the PLAB.
My first job as a senior house officer was challenging, particularly in keeping up with the English idioms and jokes. Within a year I passed my MRCP UK and became a specialist registrar in gastroenterology. I enjoyed the next five years in clinical training as well as doing research. In my final year, I was selected for an advanced GI fellowship in Charleston, USA – an enriching clinical experience, which gave me an insight into a two-tier healthcare system.
I’ve now been a consultant for 18 years at Milton Keynes University Hospital. It’s very fulfilling, with a blend of clinical, teaching and leadership roles at local, regional and national levels. I was clinical director at my trust, and eventually divisional director for medicine. I have been a regional specialty adviser, member of the clinical services and standards committee at the British Society of Gastroenterology, and secretary of the regional gut club at Oxford.
I’ve also been an examiner for MRCP UK – the very exam I once dreaded – which was surreal. I’m privileged to serve RCP London as regional adviser and am grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Her Majesty The Queen during the RCP quincentenary ceremony in 2019.
Alongside a successful NHS career, though, I have faced a fair share of challenges, barriers and disappointments, including some due to unconscious bias. The cultural values of hard work and perseverance from my Indian heritage helped me overcome them. Ultimately, I am thankful to our NHS for its opportunities and supportive professional environment.
My journey has been fulfilling, and I am now using my experience to support and mentor junior medical and nursing colleagues – encouraging them to work hard, with a collaborative approach to patient care, but also to focus on their professional development.
In my own leadership roles, I am giving a voice to BAME doctors and international medical graduates, and helping to improve diversity and equality to the benefit of the NHS.
Ravi Madhotra is a consultant gastroenterologist in Milton Keynes.