In this piece for South Asian Heritage Month (SAHM) 2022, Dr Sarfraz Qureshi describes how he came from humble beginnings in Pakistan before moving to Britain to work as an NHS doctor for over five decades.
I was born in 1942 in a city called Lyallpur in what was then British India. It is now Faisalabad – the third largest city in Pakistan. My father worked at the local council offices and my mother was a home-educated housewife. She taught me Urdu and Arabic from a young age, while my father focused on mathematics.
On my second day at primary school, I was moved up a year and remained the youngest in my class until I entered medical school. At municipal (secondary) school, the classes were large and the competition for limited places in higher education was fierce. Inspired by my two older sisters who already had careers in nursing and midwifery, I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a doctor. Despite tough conditions in an extremely hot school building with unreliable electricity, I excelled at science and gained one of only 34 merit scholarships to attend university.
At 17 I started at King Edward Medical College in Lahore. All our classes were taught in English and many of our teachers were visiting professors from UK teaching hospitals. I won the physiology first prize and honours in medicine during my time there before eventually graduating sixth in my class. In my placement year I worked long hours with little holiday and even less pay. However, the upside of working in such a busy hospital was that I was given a large amount of responsibility and a significant amount of clinical experience in a short space of time. This helped me obtain my visa to practise medicine in Britain.
I arrived in London in October 1965 on a miserable, foggy day. I had a suitcase, a raincoat, shoes which were not suitable for British weather and £10. I borrowed money from friends to fund registration with the GMC and medical indemnity insurance. I got a locum post in East Ham and from then on I never had a day of unemployment for the next 50 years!
I worked at a variety of hospitals in London and Essex, earning a pittance and sending a third of it home to Pakistan to support my parents. It was while working in Colchester that I met my future wife, Jill, in 1969. She encouraged me to further my studies and by January 1971 I had passed the MRCP and become a member of the college. We married that summer and, while her parents were initially sceptical, I managed to win them over.
Later that year I attained a registrar position in Liverpool and split my time between cardiology and nephrology. After some time, Dr John Goldsmith asked me to focus solely on nephrology, working with him. He became my mentor, helping me get papers published, including in The Lancet. Dr Goldsmith once suggested I change my name in order to get ahead in my career. I explained that I was proud of my name and should not need to change it for anyone. That name now adorns a room in RCP at The Spine.
After 30 years of education, I achieved my childhood dream of becoming a consultant when I moved to Halifax in 1977. I stayed in the role for nearly three decades while I raised my family, and still live in the area to this day. Upon leaving I took up various part-time positions around Britain for the next decade before retiring from medicine in 2017 at the tender age of 75. After 40 years as a consultant, I feel I have lived a long and fulfilling life, and I have lived it well.