Reflecting on Ramadan, faith, and workplace support for doctors

by Latifa Patel

The room to observe religious ceremony at work will go a long way in promoting well-being among staff

Location: UK
Last reviewed: 29 April 2021
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The NHS has 1.4 million employees. 1.4 million people from different countries, of different races and ethnicities, different experiences and different beliefs. These differences are a reflection of the public and patient communities we help, and should be celebrated. It’s what allows us to work in partnership with our patients; our commonalities, our connections.

For me, as a Muslim, faith and beliefs are one of those connections which I share with colleagues and patients.

It is currently Ramadan; a holy month for Muslims. A time for prayer, fasting, reflection and connection. If you are observing Ramadan, on behalf of all the BMA, I wish you a peaceful Ramadan.

Working in the NHS, you are likely to work with Muslim colleagues, or colleagues with another faith or belief, or share my view that time and space for reflection is critical for all doctors. You are also likely to treat patients with a faith, some of whom may be Muslim.

For the second year, the pandemic has meant that Ramadan like many faith occasions will be observed differently. Ramadan is a time for family, friends and community to connect. It is normally a time where we meet physically for prayer, reflection, charity, to support each other and the community!

The pandemic has pushed us to adapt and move these connections virtually. Despite this virtual nature I am still very grateful for this opportunity for reflection. Knowing that I am joined by people all over the world in observing Ramadan has helped give me a sense of connection.

As a trainee who rotates, observing Ramadan in the NHS is different each year. Some years, I have fasted alongside colleagues. The camaraderie we shared was special. In other years, I have been the sole person in my team fasting. My colleagues would ask about my faith and how to best support me during Ramadan. I really appreciated this.

Despite not eating lunch or dinner, I have always tried to take my break and I would encourage all doctors observing Ramadan to do this too – breaks are critical. They not only offered me the necessary time to rest from work but they also allowed me to meet with colleagues.

One thing that links all doctors is how regularly we come face to face with pain and grief. Our work can affect us physically and mentally and, for me, my faith provides a source of strength and peace. One of my chief concerns about the overworking of NHS staff, is the detrimental impact it has on staff.

Protected spaces to reflect and rest for those both with a faith and those without is so important and workplaces should accommodate for this. This past year more than every has shown us the value of supporting staff wellbeing.

Something that I am reflecting on this year is the critical role of workplace support for doctors with a faith. A survey by the British Islamic Medical Association last year found that 81% respondents had experienced Islamophobic discrimination.

We know too that COVID-19 has raised additional challenges for staff with religious dress practices and I’m proud that the BMA has consistently pressed for PPE to be provided that meets diverse needs. Access to prayer rooms, which are critical places for reflection, as well as time for prayer, has also suffered. I am grateful for the BMA’s strong relationships with the British Islamic Medical Association and Muslim Doctors’ Association, allowing us to collaborate in building a more inclusive NHS.

In the spirit of Ramadan’s focus on reflection and connection, I have also asked some of my Muslim colleagues to share their thoughts on what Ramadan means to them.

Emma Wiley, member of BMA equality, diversity and inclusion advisory group and microbiology consultant, has reflected on how colleagues support each other

 

It is transformative when colleagues and managers are respectful and show understanding of this.  Taking time early on to check in with fasting colleagues and offer support or adjustments is helpful. Whilst some Muslims will prefer not to talk about it or adjust their working practices at all, others will feel very appreciative when colleagues take an interest.

 

Fasting can affect people in different ways and each staff member will have different priorities and needs.  Some may feel tired, others feel the same as usual and others more energetic and productive than usual.  This may vary depending upon the time of day and the stage in the month. For many Muslims the first few fasts are the most challenging whilst the body acclimatises and the caffeine withdrawal is most palpable! 

 

Support accommodating annual leave and flexible working requests (particularly during the last 10 days of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr) as much as service will allow may be highly appreciated by Muslim staff. Muslim colleagues may also wish to pray more often on site in lieu of a lunch break. There is evidence, too, that efforts to support staff with spiritual needs (for instance, short breakers, and dedicated office space) can improve staff retention.

 

Zirva Khan, GP, reflected on her Ramadan experiences

 

I am hoping to observe Ramadan by fasting, being charitable, and spending time connecting within spiritually. I will be doing this whilst continuing to work as a GP. A big reason why I became a doctor is because of my faith; many of the principles and virtues of my faith are symbiotic with that of practicing Medicine. This relationship has never felt as fragile as it has since the start of the pandemic, however with regular reflections overall I feel my faith has strengthened. 

 

I wish wishing all my colleagues Ramadan Mubarak/Kareem, whether you are fasting, Muslim, either or neither. Please look out for each other and make sure you are getting regular rest breaks, particularly for Sahoor (starting fast) and Iftar (breaking fast). 

 

Jamila Sherif, a GP, has reflected on how her faith influences her work as a doctor

 

The dimensions of my faith are one’s relationship with God and one’s relationship with His creation and a key goal is the perfection of good character.

 

My faith motivates me to begin each day with the renewed intention to be a source of goodness for my patients, colleagues, family and friends. It reminds me to strive for excellence in all that I do, including, of course my work as a doctor. It inspires me to serve with compassion and act as an advocate for justice. It equips me with a sense of perspective of the wider picture of life and existence so that work-related and other pressures do not become overwhelming

 

The beautiful saying of Rumi ‘Let the beauty of what you love be what you do’ resonates with me on reflecting on the impact of my faith on me as a doctor. 

 

 

There are doctors and patients of many faiths and none. I value our differences, and diversity, as well as our commonalities. As we work towards a more supportive and inclusive NHS, I hope that we can have a greater focus on valuing diversity and recognising and supporting NHS worker’s religious and belief identities. Ramadan Murabak.

 

What are your experiences of faith and being a doctor?

 

How does your workplace support its doctors to rest and reflect?

 

If you’d like to continue the conversation and tell your BMA how we can help support you, please do get in touch @DrLatifaPatel

 

Latifa Patel is deputy chair of the BMA representative body