For South Asian Heritage Month, consultant cardiologist Dr Arjun Ghosh talks about his childhood spent between London and Kolkata.
I spent my early childhood years growing up in inner London. However, when I was 11, my father wanted my younger brother and I to have the ‘Indian experience’, and as a result we then moved to Kolkata, the city where my parents grew up. It was quite a change for all of us, but my brother and I both got used to learning two new languages (Bengali and Hindi) at school, and trying to acclimatise to a very different educational system.
As is the case for many Indian families, there were a lot of doctors in my family. While my father was a civil and structural engineer and my mother was an adult education teacher, both my grandfathers were doctors, along with several uncles, aunts and cousins. I suppose it was somewhat of a cliché that my brother and I were both expected to join the ‘family business’ of medicine. In any case, I don’t remember that either of us thought there were many options other than medicine. In India in the 90s, liberalisation of the economy had just started, and medicine was one of the more tried and trusted career prospects.
I completed my MBBS degree with a gold medal from Calcutta National Medical College. My brother, however, did not want to obtain his degree in India, and moved back to London at the age of 17 to complete his undergraduate medical studies at Cambridge and Imperial.
I came back to the UK after completing my internship, after taking the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) exam. I remember applying for over 400 jobs before I got shortlisted for my first one – in far flung Ayr, in southwest Scotland – far from my parents’ house in London! Post-PLAB doctors like me used to joke that the Royal Mail survived off our multiple postal job applications. I was shortlisted because the consultant there knew my uncle, and I stayed in Ayr for 3 years, learned a few Scottish phrases and completed the MRCP examination. I then moved down to London, as luckily one of my old consultants at Ayr shortlisted me for a cardiology senior SHO job.
I managed to get a cardiology number in the North West Thames rotation, and during my training completed an MSc in medical education with distinction from the RCP and University College London, graduating top of my year. I also completed a multiple international and national award-winning PhD from Imperial College London during this time. What remains with me is what one of my supervisors said after I completed it: ‘now your CV is as good as a UK graduate’s CV!’
During my training, I helped establish cardio-oncology services at Barts Heart Centre and University College London Hospital (UCLH), which culminated in my appointment as the first consultant cardiologist in the UK to be appointed specifically in cardio-oncology. I have subsequently been appointed clinical lead for the service at UCLH and have a number of national and international leadership positions in cardio-oncology.
Was it a struggle? Yes. Have I faced institutional racism and bias against foreign graduates? Yes. Did I give up? No. Repeated studies have unfortunately demonstrated the discrimination faced by foreign graduates in a variety of scenarios, from shortlisting/appointments to jobs, to referrals to disciplinary bodies. However, there is still clearly a pathway to excel and succeed for all. It does require hard work and dedication, and more than the odd slice of luck. I hope that I am doing a small bit in my educational and leadership roles in fostering a true ‘equal opportunities’ environment. I feel that if my story inspires just one doctor to carry on in their journey to achieve their dreams, then it will have been worthwhile to share my experiences.