From Hong Kong to Sunderland, RCP Education Fellow Hussain Basheer explores his journey into medicine.
My parents were first generation immigrants to the UK in 1969. At the time, England were current world cup champions, the Beatles were about to relinquish their grip on the globe, and Neil Armstrong has just become the first man to walk on the moon.
These were heady times, and doubly so for my mother - then a fresh-faced 20-year-old who had left the comfort of her family home in Hong Kong to travel to Poplar in London, to start training as a nurse. Adjusting to Cockney life was challenging, but made easier by the camaraderie she had with her Irish, Caribbean and Sri Lankan colleagues, who shared her hospital accommodation. Her ‘pocket money’ would go on such luxuries she’d never experienced before: Tizer and packets of crisps!
My father, meanwhile, was navigating his way through post-partition India, from Hyderabad, to Pakistan, and what is now Bangladesh. He was fortunate to have the opportunity to complete his postgraduate pharmacy studies in the UK, and went on to work in the health service here where he met my mother.
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight, but they certainly found common ground as immigrants trying to fit in. During 47 years of marriage and counting, they searched for an area to settle, and after swapping the East End for Sunderland (probably their biggest culture shock!), plumped for West London.
They both qualified in their professions, worked hard, saved hard and sacrificed social lives and holidays to ensure there was no reason for them not to belong. My sister and I benefited the most: a good education in which our parents emphasised the importance of being good at maths, English and science in school, so that we could ‘get a good job’. Ultimately, this lead to medical school, and hopefully us both practising medicine as consultants in the next couple of years. It’s fair to say our parents became our role models.
One of my only personal regrets throughout my childhood is that I focused too much on my schoolwork, always coming at the expense of learning both my parents’ mother tongues fluently (Cantonese and Urdu). It’s a poor excuse, but I just found the different symbols and syntax of each language too difficult to comprehend. It was far more palatable to navigate the diametrically opposite, but equally glorious food in our house: who wouldn’t love to choose between a lamb biryani and dim sum every weekend?
This Doctor can
Mercifully, I have been able to find one identity that fits well: being a doctor. Yes, there is certainly room for improvement in my profession, particularly when it comes to equality, as there is in society as a whole. But there’s plenty that I like about it.
No one completely masters the language of medicine. But we all keep trying to, and we can help each other learn. We do this by embracing different experiences, and different backgrounds. Inviting different perspectives keeps medicine inclusive, and is the tenet of education on which I will hang my career hat.
Watching a recent RCP members’ ceremony really brought it home to me: of course we were there to celebrate what this cohort of trainees had just achieved, but it was nice to think about what they would achieve in the future as well. An already diverse group of doctors, going on to specialise in equally diverse fields of medicine, in different parts of the country. And yet, here we were, all in the same room.
One parent, about the same age as mine, had flown in from Malaysia specifically for the ceremony. It was his first time in the UK and his face was a picture of pride. We only chatted for a few seconds, but I could sense he had something in common with my parents. And though I never met his son or daughter, I knew that there was something we would have in common too.
The true essence of being a doctor is still a privilege, no matter where you are from.
Would you like to share your experience of becoming a doctor? Get in touch on Twitter via @thisdoctorcan.