From Pakistan to Northumberland, Dr Abbas is proud to be part of the Northumbria NHS Family
We talked to Dr. Syed Zafar Abbas, a consultant physician and gastroenterologist about his career working in the NHS as part of our Black History Month 2021 celebrations.
“I studied to be a doctor in Pakistan and came to the UK in 1992. During my career, I have worked for the NHS at hospitals across the country in mainly North East and South West England. I initially joined as a trainee junior doctor and worked my way up through the years to become a consultant. I was one of the first doctors to complete the new specialist registrar training and joined Northumbria Healthcare as a consultant in 2001 based at Hexham General.
I had to move back to Pakistan temporarily in 2004 and worked as a Professor in Medicine and Consultant Gastroenterologist in a teaching hospital in Pakistan and then returned to the UK in 2011.
I feel it is a privilege to work for NHS – not just as a BAME doctor, but in any capacity.
The NHS is one the best things that has ever happened in this country. Having had the opportunity to participate in various medical conferences around the globe, and studied healthcare systems, I have no hesitation in saying that we are one of the luckiest people in the world with such a great service available to us.
The NHS is one of the largest organisation in the world. During my career, I was trained by many great doctors and I was always impressed by their dedication to the profession and commitment towards their patients. This included all NHS workers I worked with not just senior doctors and they all worked really well as a team.
This is not to say that everything is perfect. The evidence is clear and BAME staff in the NHS nationally have not always been treated with dignity and respect, just because of their skin colour.
Over the years, I too have personally experienced this. As a junior doctor, I once admitted a very sick young man, who was unconscious, and the first thing he said when he saw me was an unpublishable racial slur. I was stunned! A lovely nurse standing next to me was more shocked than I was and told him politely that this man you are insulting, actually saved your life last night. He did not apologise.
Whilst in my experience most incidences like this have been relatively minor; it highlights the inequality that still exists in society.
I’ve also found younger people are often affected, particularly if they have moved to the UK recently. For instance, some BAME staff can feel isolated – unaware of local places of worship, culturally appropriate food stores, and social networks. At Northumbria, we have a BAME Staff Network run by and for staff who in response to this have developed resources to signpost staff to local facilities and networks to help with this.
In addition, colleagues have come to me who felt they were being bullied at work because of their race, but unfortunately as often it’s the case, they didn’t want to report it, because it’s instilled in many BAME cultures not to complain about such things, avoid confrontation and carry on. At the trust we have a zero-tolerance policy to racism and staff are actively encouraged to report incidences of racism. It’s only by having an open-door policy that we can change the inequality and discrimination in the NHS.
That said, the support from the vast majority of colleagues and society at large has always been overwhelmingly positive for me.
If people are experiencing discrimination this is where staff networks can help. For example, having a colleague who can understand and relate to a problem is always useful. Such colleagues, who may have gone through similar issues previously themselves, may also be the best placed to advise what action to take. The network also provides the opportunity to inform managers and senior leaders, increasing their understanding of how to support staff and build a more inclusive work environment.
I think meeting people from various backgrounds and cultures are always interesting and inspiring. There is always something which we can learn from each other. Such learning opportunities, support, and fun can extend beyond the workplace too and help foster a sense of community. I feel that this allows us to enjoy life even more! It also enables us to contribute to the NHS, and therefore to society in a better way too.
Black History Month gives us the opportunity to raise awareness and celebrates BAME culture and diversity. It highlights the valued contribution we make to our NHS and I want to thank the NHS and wish my BAME co-workers all the very best in their NHS careers- there is no better place to work.