A Conversation with…

Dr. Guleed Adan MBBS BSc MRCP

BSMA Treasurer and Adult Neurology Registrar, Liverpool

Interviewer: Dr. Hani Hassan


Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed Guleed! Could I start by asking you to tell us a bit about yourself?

Of course! I was born and grew up in Manchester, and was fortunate to have teachers at school who believed in and encouraged me. Hooyo (Mum) and Aabo (Dad) were always very supportive too, but not too pushy, if that makes sense. And yeah, I enjoyed school, did well and I enjoyed doing voluntary work in my spare time so I was encouraged to apply for medicine. It made a lot of sense to combine the two things that I cared about.

So did you go to medical school straight out of school?

Yes. Thankfully, I had a very straightforward experience of applying to medical school. I was lucky to get 3 interviews and 3 offers and went to King’s (King’s College London).

Oh, I didn’t realise you were at King’s! I studied there too, albeit a few years later. Could you briefly share your experience and perception of medical school, and as a Somali in particular?

I imagine we had very different experiences (laughs), when I started at King’s I was one of maybe three Somali faces when I first started and now I’m sure it’s completely different…

*interviewer laughs in agreement*

I guess what was difficult was that there weren’t many people from my kind of background to ask for support, back when I started in 2008. So, you know, that was probably one of the challenges at the time. Just not seeing many Somali doctors or medical students. But I think that’s completely different now, so I hope current and prospective Somali medical students will benefit from that change.

Any specific advice for Somali students applying to medicine? In our community, students are less likely to have family friends and such to approach for things like work experience. Do you have any insights or perspectives on that?

I think you just have to be quite driven. You have to be quite tenacious and have to be very self-motivated. You need to be ready to send a lot of letters, a lot of emails, a lot of phone calls, not hear back and not be disheartened. And just keep going anyway.

Also, I would say make use of the BCC (blind carbon copy) function when emailing around for work experience. You might spend a lot of time and effort composing your one email to get it perfect, but once it’s done you can send it out to 100 different hospitals or departments all at the same time without them realising!

What advice would you give to anyone currently at or about to enter medical school?

I probably wish I’d actually applied myself in my studies. I felt as though we just had to ‘pass’ exams but actually on the job and in my postgraduate training, I would often think “I wish I concentrated on my neuroanatomy” or “I wish I’d paid more attention in physiology” because that’s what comes up in your MRCP (Membership of the Royal College of Physicians) exams and your day-to-day practice.

It can be difficult as it is to correlate what you’ve learnt at medical school with the clinical signs you see in the clinic, so why not give yourself the best head start by actually paying attention…

So, essentially, study with a view to using this knowledge to look after your patients rather than just to pass exams?

Exactly!

I would also say get involved with extracurricular societies or take up a sport. Do the things that you enjoy, because when you start working you won’t have nearly as much time to do them. I think Somali students are even less likely than most, to have these random hobbies just because of how we’re brought up. Having hobbies and interests become even more important once you start work. As well as being fun, they also make you look better when you’re doing your postgraduate training applications, so definitely something to consider.

Yes, I think you’re right in that Somali students don’t necessarily have the cultural capital to try a lot of extra-curricular activities, and university is a great place to pick new hobbies up so that’s really good advice…

 What are your feelings on medicine itself? Would you go for it again if you had your time back, and would you recommend it to others?

I think for me, it was the right choice. I think for people who are going into it for the right reasons, I think it’s the best job in the world. But if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, then it can be the worst decision you’ll ever make and the biggest waste of both time and money.

If you think you’re going to become rich being a doctor, then it’s the wrong career for you. If you think you’re going to have status and power and authority and respect as a doctor, then again, it’s the wrong career for you. I think there may have been a time when doctors would have made a lot of money and had a lot of status and authority, but that isn’t the case anymore.  But, if you’re doing it because you want a career that combines science, caring for others, research and teaching, then… there’s very few other jobs that can offer that.

It also gives fantastic job security. Medical graduates are always highly sought after in other fields, so there are a lot of options even if you decide not to stay in medicine. So, you know, in short, it’s a really good career for the right person who is doing it for the right reasons.

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Guleed has played a key role in the establishment of the BSMA

 Can you tell us a bit about your next career steps after medical school?

Yes. I’m now an ST4 in neurology but I’m currently doing a PhD on epilepsy for the past year. I’m looking at predicting the recurrence of seizures after someone’s had their first ever unprovoked seizure.

For someone like me starting out as a Dr, I do often wonder how to choose a speciality. How did you come to specialise in neurology and do you have any advice for medics thinking about making these decisions?

Um, so I had a really good experience on my neurology rotation as a medical student. My firm head was someone I got on really well with on both a professional and personal level. Also, I really felt as though I could see myself being like that person. So, I think a lot of it is to do with finding role models, as well as what you personally enjoy and find interesting.

I also think you have to ask yourself, what sort of life you want to live. When you’re a medical student, it’s hard to think of yourself, you know, 10 or 20 years down the line but you do need to think about the family you might have, and the burdens of your potential role and how difficult it will be to get into specialty training programmes.

And then, once you’re there, what will your life look like? Are you always going to be staying behind after work, trying to pick up as many surgical cases as you can to fill your logbook? Or, you know, writing as many papers as you can to get into a dermatology post in central London or, a neurosurgery job when there’s only, you know, a handful in the country available. So, I think you’ll have to just be realistic, pragmatic and think of what sort of life you’d like to live and what sort of doctor you’d like to be.

Very insightful as always. Thank you so much Guleed, it was a pleasure chatting to you and I’m sure lots of people will benefit from your experiences and insights.