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This Doctor Can: Dr Onima Chowdhury

For South Asian Heritage Month, this This Doctor Can blog post focuses on the life and career of Dr Onima Chowdhury.

If we discount my early fleeting desires to be a dancer, a chef and an international explorer, I can’t really remember a time when I wanted to be anything other than a doctor.

Dr Chowdhury as a child.

My parents are both scientists from Bangladesh. My dad, a physicist, studied in Pakistan before moving to the UK in the late sixties on a Commonwealth scholarship. My mum graduated from University in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and met my father while he was back on holiday. After they were married, she joined by dad in Oxfordshire and completed a PhD in Chemistry. Both pretty remarkable as young Bangladeshis in the 1970s. We are not a family of doctors but I’m sure my parents’ enthusiasm for science and an understanding of the world, coupled with my desire to care for people, forged my desire to go into medicine.

Bangladeshi culture, particularly the food and its ability to bond, are a huge part of who I am today.

Dr Onima Chowdhury, consultant haematologist

Unlike many families who moved to the UK around that time, my parents did not move to an area with a significant South Asian community. I was one of only a handful of brown faces at my local school. Although I clearly remember being ‘different’, I don’t recall this ever really being an issue and I’m sure this has led to me being able to thrive and pursue life as I wanted to.

Bangladeshi culture, particularly the food and its ability to bond, are a huge part of who I am today. My mother is an incredible woman, and producing her delicious biriyanis, kormas, rezalas and her meltingly delicious lamb, after she had been working in the lab all day, still amaze me. My school friends and I still regularly reminisce about this and I’m doing my limited best to keep the tradition going with my children.

Dr Chowdhury with her mother.

As the years have passed, I have understood more and more how much I have been influenced by my parents and our heritage. The struggles of moving to the other side of the world, without family support, to assimilate and thrive in an entirely new culture have undoubtedly influenced how I think, act and develop relationships. Although through the passing of time, luck, and the support of my family, I have not experienced the struggles my parents’ generation did, I am acutely aware of the value of diversity in all senses and how hard it can be when, to put it simply, no one around you looks like you do.

Situations that at first appear challenging can be the making of you.

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