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This Doctor Can: Ganesh Subramanian

‘I came to the UK to achieve my MRCP. This is now my 30th year in the NHS and I haven’t looked back.’ During Stroke Awareness Month, RCP fellow and consultant in stroke medicine Ganesh Subramanian tells This Doctor Can how he has achieved a career he can be proud of, despite coming from a humble background.

I wasn’t remotely interested in medicine when I was at school. I wanted to be an engineer, which is on a par with a doctor in terms of social status in my home country of India. However, I was terrible at maths but achieved good grades in science. With some friendly threats from my parents, I decided to study medicine – I was to become the first doctor in my family. I was from a poor family and so struggled financially through my school and university days, but I had sheer bloody mindedness by the bucketload. 

I was slightly ambivalent about medicine in my pre-clinical years. It all changed when I joined my assistant professor, Dr Lakshminarayan (LN as we called him), in my 3rd year – he was an inspiration.

He taught us to respect patients as humans first, before treating them as patients. This was revolutionary at that time, as you were only really respected in India if you were rich. He also taught me that patients did not present with mitral stenosis, for instance, but came instead with breathlessness. He was the first person to encourage me to see through the eyes of my patients – he made me think. 

I ended up coming to UK in 1993 to achieve my MRCP, inspired by LN who was also a member of the RCP. I made the decision even though the trend at the time was to go to the USA. This decision was another that can be attributed to my bloody-mindedness! 

It led to a sequence of events that would change my life. I loved the concept of medical care that is free at the point of delivery. Indian healthcare was predominantly based in the private sector – you went to government hospitals only if you could not afford private healthcare. 

This is now my 30th year in NHS and I have not looked back. Over the years, I have had some wonderful consultants who were excellent in supporting and challenging me simultaneously. Quite frankly, the challenges they threw at me made me who I am today. I was keen on medical education, but not on clinical research. Having trained in various specialties, I settled on stroke medicine. I am now a consultant based in Nottingham and regional director for stroke medicine for the East Midlands. It has been – and continues to be – a wonderful career and I love my job. 

I am involved in various aspects of medicine and without doubt variety is the spice of life. I remain hugely ambitious and have learned that time management skills were key to progressing further. I pride myself in my work–life balance; there is no better role than RCP wine fellow to enjoy in my spare time. The role sees me work with the RCP events team to ensure that there is the appropriate type and amount of wine for various college gatherings.

I believe having numerous strings to my bow has allowed me to not only remain sane, but also to achieve more than I ever thought I would – with the pinnacle being co-authoring a chapter in Kumar and Clark’s Clinical Medicine. I would have laughed if you had told me I would achieve that when I was a medical student.  

Times are very different these days – however, it is so heartening to see how passionate the medical students and junior doctors are despite their heavy stresses and strains. To see their enthusiasm is uplifting to say the least.  

For any aspiring medic or a newly qualified doctor, I would say: ‘Enjoy what you do. Ensure you spend time enjoying life outside medicine – however that may be.’ 

In April, in the run up to Stroke Awareness Month, the RCP’s Intercollegiate Stroke Working Party published the new evidence-based National Clinical Guideline for Stroke for the UK and Ireland. These guidelines, available online, provide authoritative guidance to improve the quality of care delivered to every adult who has a stroke.