Profile of a Muslim doctor: It’s tough but so rewarding

Dr Siema Iqbal

5Pillars is starting a new series of features profiling British Muslim professionals. Today we begin with Dr Siema Iqbal, a GP in Manchester who says that being a doctor is tough and can impact negatively on your social and family life; but it’s also one of the most rewarding professions out there.

5Pillars: Siema, Tell us a little bit about yourself?

Dr Siema Iqbal:  I’m a mum to two crazy boys and a GP in Manchester which is where I grew up. I also run my business “Doctor Aesthetics” which I set up a few years ago.

I enjoy doing community work whether it involves raising money or awareness for charity. I also work with various groups such as AskDoc to empower the local community through talks in mosques/schools etc.

I try to do lots of work to tackle social inequality, hate crime and issues that affect British Muslims be it through public speaking, writing or through organisations I’m involved with.

5P: Why did you choose medicine as a career?

SI: I enjoyed topics such as biology at school and found the human body fascinating and – as cliched as it might sound – I wanted to help others so therefore it seemed like the obvious career choice.

And who can argue that the theme tune to Casualty wasn’t cool!

5P: The medical training is so long and difficult, isn’t it?

SI: The medical degree is not only one of the longest degrees at university but graduating doesn’t mean the end of the training as up to another 10 years are required to complete depending on the field of medicine you specialise in.

So you have to be prepared to give that commitment and be resigned to the fact that the training will involve unsociable working hours which can impact on family life. What’s more, it’s definitely not as financially rewarding as everyone outside of medicine thinks it is.

5P: Why are some Muslim parents so obsessed about their children becoming doctors?

SI: Medicine is seen as a respected profession with guaranteed job prospects, financial security and potentially “better husband/wife prospects” when it comes to finding a life partner. Therefore for parents it seems like a safe choice.

It takes a long time to train to be a doctor
It takes a long time to train to be a doctor

5P: When you tell people you’re a doctor are they impressed?

SI: I would say “surprised” is probably a better word as I don’t think I fit the typical stereotype some people have of a doctor.

5P: Was being a GP what you expected to do?

SI: I grew up in Cheetham Hill and wanted to give back to the community I felt supported me to be who I am today and therefore chose to work in Crumpsall.

It’s an inner city area of high ethnic diversity, social deprivation and a population with lots of medical co-morbidity and social need.

5P: What’s the best and worst thing about being a GP?

SI: One of the best things about being a GP has to be watching families and children grow and being part of people’s major life events.

But there are moments of helplessness and sadness at times when despite doing everything you can do to help someone either illness, the impact of austerity or national policies affect people’s lives. And accepting that you cannot change things is difficult.

However, there are hugely rewarding moments and happiness at making patients better or being the person who has helped to turn someone’s life around.

5P: You’re a mum as well? How do you achieve that work/life balance being a doctor?

SI: It takes a huge amount of organisation and excellent childcare!

5P: What tips would you give Muslims to improve their health?

SI: Ok, here goes:

  • Eat the right portion sizes of the correct types of food
  • Exercise for 20 minutes at least three times a week – being overweight is not a symbol of good health or wealth!
  • Stay happy – stop watching depressing dramas on TV!!!
  • Take responsibility for your own health

5P: Have you experienced any problems being a Muslim in your profession? Any discrimination?

SI: I have been fortunate enough not to experience any discrimination but I know colleagues who have not been as fortunate.

5P: Would you encourage Muslims to go into the profession?

SI: There are many professions with better pay and with more sociable working hours. However, most doctors aren’t in this profession for the money – its a way of life.

It’s usually a choice based upon the desire to help others and where job satisfaction is a driving factor. It can be physically and emotionally tiring and can impact on family life when you miss school plays because of a sick patient or because you have to work late because a patient wants to kill themselves. But it’s also one of the most humbling, rewarding and privileged professions there is.

Lets hope Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt doesn’t destroy it…

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