Interview: Medicine and Outreach

Doctor Shabina Qayyum [square]As part of our continuing series regarding careers in medicine, we interviewed Dr. Shabina Asad Qayyum, a General Practitioner based in Peterborough, England. In addition to being a GP, she also has specialist interest in ear, nose and throat conditions, as well as reproductive medicine. Beyond her work as a doctor, she also hosts a popular weekly radio programme and writes health columns for the Asian World newspaper.

Tell us about your medical career: what made you decide to go into medicine? Where did you study? How did you choose your specialism?

I’m a fully-fledged GP working within the NHS. I have specialist interest in ear, nose, throat and reproductive medicine. I decided to become a doctor at a very early age. I was born in Leeds; my parents are from Pakistan. My mother and father strongly believed that in order to give women their independence, it’s important to provide them with an education. My father in particular believes medicine is a very noble profession: we help people. Also, from a practical point of view, it’s profession whereby if I had a crisis, as you sometimes do in a family, I’d have sufficient independence to support them. Furthermore, I’ve always had a strong desire to help others; I suppose this charitable aspect of my personality is something I inherited from my Dad.

I received my basic medical education from Dow Medical School, a Pakistani institution founded by Sir Hugh Dow during colonial days. I qualified in 2002. I then came to UK for my basic surgical training. Then, I was an EMT doctor for 2 years, and spent a year in accident and emergency medicine. However, by that time I had settled down, got married, and had children. The pace of life with my specialities was difficult whilst taking care of children. I subsequently had a rethink and became a General Practitioner; it’s a family friendly speciality while still fulfilling my basic mission to help people.


"Your GP will know you a lot better than any other doctor you will encounter."


Furthermore, your General Practitioner is your first port of call, and they deal with a wide range of a problems from the start to the end of an individual’s life. In other words, it’s cradle to grave speciality; it’s holistic. Your GP will know you a lot better than any other doctor you will encounter.

Where have you worked during the course of your career?

I began working at the prestigious St. Mary’s Hospital in London. I did my year of working in A&E at West Middlesex Hospital. My husband’s career took us to East Anglia; I began my work as a GP in the East Midlands area. I took a sabbatical in 2011 while I had youngest child and my husband’s career took us to Australia for a year. Through his work, I witnessed how Australia’s health care system works.

What were the some of the challenges you faced? What was the most challenging environment you worked in and why?

Being a GP is not a 9 to 5 job; you are constantly on call as part of a rotation. The most challenging environment was working in a hospice specialising in end of life care. My time there included the Christmas period; it was an extremely emotional time and involved a steep learning curve.


"The most challenging environment was working in a hospice specialising in end of life care. My time there included the Christmas period..."


Nevertheless, my experience at the hospice taught me through the stories of my patients that life should be celebrated; patients frequently told me their stories. They consistently wanted their families not to mourn but to remember them in a happy way.

I feel that my time there helped me grow as a person and put my role as a doctor in perspective.

How did you get into broadcasting and writing columns?

I felt that as a General Practitioner that there are certain limitations when one works within the NHS. There was so much more I wanted to do beyond my regular working hours. I was subsequently approached by newly established community radio station, Salaam Radio in Peterborough: it gave me the opportunity to extend my role further. I could provide the public with health education in a different way.

In my programme, I’ve covered topics including diabetes and heart disease; conditions which many people grapple with and are concerned about. Via the radio, I could spread the message in a way that I wasn’t able to do in a 10-minute appointment. Furthermore, people often listen to doctors in matters of health only when there is a crisis. This is a means by which I can exercise preventative care.

My programme broadcasts on Salaam Radio every week: I often have guests who practice various specialities, including consultants, so as to increase the audience’s knowledge base.

I also write health columns to further increase awareness and help people help themselves. The Asian World newspaper was very happy to take on my column on a monthly basis.

How do you feel your media outreach activities intersects with being a doctor?

The media aspects of my role have greatly aided my communication with patients. I have become more well versed in a variety of conditions Furthermore, I often reflect on the latest treatment of a condition from a show that I have done. It has increased my communication, knowledge, and made me more familiar with the services available in the city so I can signpost them more easily.


"The media aspects of my role have greatly aided my communication with patients."


What have been the effects of your outreach activities on your medical work?

I’ve seen the effects particularly with children. It’s often daunting for them to come to the surgery; I’ve found that families who have children that listen to the radio, or see me online recognise me as “the doctor on the radio”. As a result, they aren’t as fearful when they come to see me.

Often, people will send text messages to my radio programme. I had a strong response after a programme I did about domestic violence; the respondents were mainly females from ethnic minority communities asking for help. Through the programme, they heard that there are services out there of which they were otherwise unaware.


"....people will send text messages to my radio programme. I had a strong response after a programme I did about domestic violence..."


Medical colleagues have told me that they listen to the show and that it helps them with their appraisals. They are required to collect learning hours; the programme helps them to revise.

Some of our readers will be wavering between medical research and practicing medicine: what would you say to them?

I think we’re very fortunate here in the UK that once a person qualifies from medical school there are ample opportunities to embark on research. I’d advise your readers to get a feel what it’s like to practice, see what the need of the population is at large, and where your interests lie, e.g. women’s health, chronic diseases, etc.. Once you get your interests established, it is very easy to do both part time: there is great flexibility. Even as GP, people have an opportunity to take up research posts as well as practicing. For those in the UK, a good place to start is Health Education England.

I have no regrets in choosing a medical career. When I get up in the morning, I realise that there is every likelihood that I will say words and implement actions that can change someone’s life for the good. I’d advise your readers that if they do take up the challenge of being a doctor that they hold onto a positive outlook. They may be someone’s only hope: being upbeat and determined may change someone’s life for the better.


  • A career as a general practitioner allows one to have a holistic career, providing 'cradle to grave' care.
  • Media outreach can enhance the care that can be extended to the community.
  • Opportunities to do research whilst one practices medicine are available.


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