This Doctor Can: Growing up in a deprived area didn’t stop me pursuing my dream as a doctor

Dr Asif Munaf reflects on his journey into medicine, from council estate in Sheffield to new member’s ceremony at the RCP. 

As doctors, we don’t often get a chance to sit back and enjoy the moment. Even our 5-minute mid-morning coffee breaks are seldom left uninterrupted. Last Wednesday, however, as I sat there eagerly awaiting my name to be called out from the RCP’s new members list, I experienced one of those rare moments of introspection and reflection.
 
Gaining membership was the culmination of years of hard work: a taxing journey that started back in the summer of 2016. But the real journey started way before then. 

My route into medicine appeared fairly conventional on the surface with A-levels at 18 followed by first time entry into medical school. This, however, belies the rocky trajectory I took.

I was 5 years old when I first realised I wanted to be a doctor. However, growing up in the most educationally-deprived area in the country, this was more youthful audacity than achievable reality. In spite of our surroundings, there was certainly no poverty of aspiration.

Dr Asif Munaf

I was 5 years old when I first realised I wanted to be a doctor. However, growing up in the most educationally-deprived area in the country, this was more youthful audacity than achievable reality. In spite of our surroundings, there was certainly no poverty of aspiration. 

My father instilled in us an acute sense of worth and self-actualisation. He often remarked, 'this life you have is not yours. It has been entrusted to you by God so you have no right to do anything other than your best'. Indeed, it is human nature to look after someone else’s possession better than yours. Armed with this timeless pearl of wisdom, I went onto medical school with a renewed sense of obligation.

Although I had working class roots, we had a strong family unit. I was the eldest of six siblings, and both my parents were also one of six. I soon discovered, however, that a career in medicine often means that family time comes at a premium.

Having such little time forces you to be creative in the way you spend with loved ones so even 15 minutes of uninterrupted time each evening can be worth its weight in gold. Having a strong support system is vital for success in any career, not least in medicine which requires full-term commitment and wholehearted engagement.

So I thought it was very fitting when Professor Goddard asked us at the new members ceremony to look towards our family on the balcony and thank all those without whose support and love we would not have passed our exams. And it is true, that they were probably more relieved than us! 

I owe a tremendous debt to my parents. And even more so to my wife who endured hours of lonely evenings as I scoured the wards trying to locate a tricuspid murmur! What makes this more sentimental is that she was pregnant throughout my Part 2 exams. She not only carried our first-born but also my hopes for passing first time: something I had to do to ensure I welcome our baby son into the world without having the burden of looming exams.

In his speech, Professor Goddard said that the RCP have lobbied the government to double the number of medical school places available by 2020. To ensure that these places are filled with doctors from all walks of life, we have to make sure medicine appeals to all. One practical way to do this is to have open days to the RCP Gardens and museum especially for children from state schools who would not have otherwise thought of becoming a physician.

I chose medicine over dentistry due to the variety it provides. Not only in terms of ailments and treatments but also in the diverse set of patients and colleagues you work with.

Dr Asif Munaf

I chose medicine over dentistry due to the variety it provides. Not only in terms of ailments and treatments but also in the diverse set of patients and colleagues you work with. It is an honour to contribute to This Doctor Can and I hope my story can inspire other doctors from different walks of life to consider a career in medicine, so that medicine retains this very unique sense of diversity.

The RCP’s history is littered with examples of men and women who fought the prevailing prejudices of their time. We cannot let social inequality be the great prejudice of ours.

Would you like to share your experience of becoming a doctor? Get in touch on Twitter via @thisdoctorcan.

Celebrating our members' achievements: passing the MRCP(UK) exam.

Diplomates receive prestigious MRCP(UK) diplomas at RCP London.