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This Doctor Can – South Asian Heritage Month: Dr George Iype Varughese

Dr George Varughese is a consultant physician in diabetes, endocrinology and general internal medicine. Originally from India, George tells This Doctor Can about his journey into medicine, achieving his dream of becoming a member of the RCP and how his international perspective guides him in the modern NHS.

I qualified as a doctor in 1997 from Medical College, Kottayam in Kerala State, South India after my primary and secondary education in West Africa. My parents worked as physics and biology teachers, and we moved back to India when I did my A-level equivalent pre-degree studies and then entered medical school. The transition from Nigeria to India was seamless at sixth form college, as the medium of instruction was English across all educational institutions.

However, it was not without challenges; although I could speak the native language (Malayalam) fluently, I wasn't able to read or write. Medical school was a very illuminating experience and a timeline of events inspired and motivated me to follow my dream of obtaining the membership of the RCP at a very early stage during my undergraduate course. This ardent desire made me pursue my goals of sitting and taking both the UK and Irish exams later on with all the zeal and tenacity it warranted at the time – despite busy 72-hour medical rotas.

I started my medical career in the NHS just over 25 years ago, initially as a clinical attaché. As an international medical graduate, it was prudent to learn the ways of working in the NHS after passing the PLAB exam in 1998. The clinical attachment was facilitated by Dr Luke Mathews, whose invaluable advice still remains fresh with me even now. I was attached to two consultant endocrinologists: Drs Tim Harvey and Alex Wright, who were instrumental in setting the direction of travel of my future career path. I was made to feel at home and very welcome by the other house officers who had just qualified from the University of Birmingham, and we were all in similar stages of our respective careers.

At the outset, I found the streamlined protocol-driven approach fascinating. Backed by evidence-based consensus statements and guidelines, it meant that the management of common acute medical conditions was more or less standardised across the UK, irrespective of whether the patient came to a large tertiary centre, district general hospital or even primary care setting. This learning helped me settle swiftly into the NHS.

I subsequently worked as a house officer and senior house officer in medicine in the West Midlands and during this time I obtained the MRCP(UK). I had applied to 900 jobs (I remember the number of envelopes bought to send 5–10 copies of CVs to each job applied for by post) across the UK before I was interviewed and offered the senior house officer medical rotation in the same hospital where I did my house officer post. My journey as a specialist registrar in diabetes, endocrinology and general (internal) medicine began at the University Hospital of North Midlands (UHNM) NHS Trust in July 2002. I was appointed as consultant physician in the same department in 2008 and it has been an amazing experience. I have been extremely fortunate to work with several consultant physicians who were RCP fellows, in addition to being incredible mentor supervisors who helped me thrive both professionally and personally from the opportunities offered to me by the NHS.

I have always embraced change and cherished the inter-professional collaborative approach fostered amongst clinical and non-clinical NHS staff at our hospitals. Having worked as a clinical service lead for nearly 10 years, it has been very fulfilling to be able to influence decision-making and service development locally and regionally, expanding our department and enhancing the sub-specialty experience for our patients, as well as contributing positively towards GIRFT reviews.

On a personal level, it has been an absolute delight and pleasure to work alongside several other NHS healthcare professionals, together with some very passionate management, medical staffing and HR teams. Together, we have made things happen with a can-do attitude, as well as recruited several postgraduate doctors to train with us and learn to manage acutely ill medical patients with multi-system pathology and multiple co-morbidities – in conjunction with the rigors of medicine in the NHS. It was also very satisfying to be able to enhance the specialty registrar experience in our specialty and also successfully win the bid for more placements at UHNM from the West Midlands deanery. I’m also a regular PACES examiner who has co-hosted the clinical exam for the MRCP on a number of occasions in the past few years, which has been a rewarding and gratifying experience.

UHNM has a close working partnership with Keele University Medical School, and in my role as deputy hospital dean for Keele at UHNM, I’ve had the chance to be involved in broadening horizons and widening the landscape of undergraduate medical education for Keele medical students.

I was one of the three full-time colleagues when I was appointed as a consultant 15 years ago. So far, the highlight of my stint at Stoke-on-Trent has been the appointment of another nine additional consultant colleagues in our department, all of them being from within the West Midlands specialist registrar rotational training scheme. They all worked with us initially as NHS locums, and were keen to accept offers of substantive positions at UHNM.

While my education, training and working life had led me to three different continents, I now call The Potteries (Stoke-on-Trent) my home. I have experienced diverse cultures across Europe, Africa and Asia, from where many of our international medical and nursing colleagues originate. My background helps to relate and establish rapport almost instantaneously with them, as it resonates and chimes with the same path I had once travelled towards the NHS, over quarter of a century ago.

In 2016, I was pleased to be awarded the Nye Bevan NHS Executive Healthcare Leadership Award by the NHS Leadership Academy (named after Aneurin Bevan’s pivotal role in founding the NHS in 1948) and I am very grateful for the support provided by my employer towards completing the rigorous programme and achieving this prestigious award. I feel very privileged to be part of the UHNM fabric and proud to have been working here in the NHS over the past 25 years.