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Visibility matters: seeking strength and inspiration

Dr Fizzah Ali is a neurology registrar based in London, rotating through the Royal Free hospital and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. She is currently a national medical director’s clinical fellow on a secondment working at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. She is editor-in-chief of Medical Woman, a magazine produced by the Medical Women’s Federation. In this piece she talks about her heritage, the special insight a diverse background provides, and challenging stereotype.

In between being born and raised in a large market town in Warwickshire, as children, my parents used to take us abroad to Kashmir and other regions in Pakistan to visit my grand-parents on a periodic basis. My fondest memories from childhood are of dusty roads and open markets, family gatherings and bustling weddings, tropical fruits and pet goats in the garden. Even now, in my mind’s eye, I recall starry nights out on roof tops and oil lamps during power cuts. You don't have to be a neurologist to know the connection between smell and memory, and the smell of chickens even today takes me back, over two decades ago, standing in front of clucking white feathered hens. Those rich parts of my childhood hosted adventure as well as discovery, and shaped parts of the adult I have become.   

Over a year and a half ago, I travelled to Kashmir and Pakistan with my mother. The journey was an opportunity to share and speak to my family. We chatted with my grand-mother's sister, a retired doctor. I listened to her talk about how she and her husband would travel to different areas of the country, both her work and her portable pregnant bump moving along with her. A family and a career later she still does some valuable voluntary medical work at a local school every week.

Sometimes, I look to the line of strong women I come from for inspiration, both personally and professionally.

Dr Fizzah Ali

My grand-mother played a caring role in her family and went on to become a principal at an all girl's college. An environment where she welcomed small businesses to open in the grounds. She helped educate local women and generate a circle of local business, impacting on the livelihood of the population in the area. Living with her, I found that years after retirement she is still a sought-after opinion for both professional and personal matters across the community.

Visibility matters, and young growing professional women from diverse backgrounds need to be inspired by women they relate to and they perceive positively.

Dr Fizzah Ali

When it comes to my own mother, I see her as a leader; a woman who is adaptable, resourceful and inventive.

Sometimes, I look to the line of strong women I come from for inspiration, both personally and professionally. As I reflect on my years in medicine thus far, I am conscious of change, and how these days I am approached by young women who see me and feel they can identify with me on multiple and various levels. Women from minority backgrounds are subject to presumptions and assumptions which can be encountered inside and outside of medicine. These can be profoundly limiting, and yet we are at a time when we are keen to promote women in medicine. Visibility matters, and young growing professional women from diverse backgrounds need to be inspired by women they relate to and they perceive positively.

As professionals, our personal lives host rich stories, varied experiences, and unique perspectives that lend themselves well to a career in medicine. As a profession our trade, at least in part, is human nature, and we must decide more consciously when to reject presumption and when to discover, explore, learn and promote each other.

Fizzah can be found on Twitter @DrFizzah and Instagram @drfizzah

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