Why I chose... Medical politics
Dr Farah Jameel describes how growing up in the UAE gave her a passion for politics when she moved to the UK
Name: Farah Jameel
Title: Sessional GP, East Sussex LMC member, Junior Doctors’ Committee (JDC) member, and South East Coast Regional Council (SERC) member
Location: Surrey, Sussex and London
I first became locally involved in medical politics in 2009 and I’ve been active ever since. Before I moved to the UK to pursue my postgraduate medical training, I spent the first 24 years of my life in the United Arab Emirates.
During school and university, I was always involved in the student body. On one occasion, I was pivotal in organising students in my medical school to walk out in response to changes being forced on us without any consultation. These things shape you and stay with you.
In the UK, I started out as a representative for my hospital’s local negotiating committee (LNC) and went along to regional Junior Doctors’ Committee (JDC) meetings, spent my time learning about the terms and conditions of service, making policy, and went along to different conferences. Being new to the system, it was a steep learning curve.
Moving to the UK, it dawned on me that we actually had rights and the ability to change things – something I was never used to in the UAE. If you don’t know your rights, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Why I chose this work
From a young age, my family grounded in me the importance of giving back.
I worked a summer in a school for people with learning disabilities aged 11 and volunteered for years through Médecins Sans Frontières. I also spent many of my younger years on the sports field or in the swimming pool. I won the Indian national gold medal for the U16 Shotput. I was used to packed days, working hard and giving back; it became part of my moral fibre.
While at medical school in the UAE, I spent my summer vacations training at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. This is India’s premier government hospital, where you go as a sick person when you have no money. The health inequalities were quite shocking, and staring you in the face wherever you looked. Sickness was all around and there was a price tag on health – which for too many was unaffordable.
Back in the UAE too, being part of a system that did not provide free access to health care nor recognise the voice of people on the ground was hard. This was in contrast to what I found in the UK where each one of us is (in theory) valued, has a voice, and equal access to healthcare.
With this background, I found the NHS to be a wonderful thing and I wanted to work to keep it like that. But, within a few months, like all of us who work in or use it, I began to see the problems and wanted to do something about it. I see something that angers or affects my colleagues or my patients and I go out and try to do something about it. It was a series of steps from a young age which brought me here.
This isn’t always as easy as it may seem, but when you see things changing and you’ve actively contributed towards that change it is exceptionally fulfilling.
Working as a doctor is a great privilege wherever you work, but to also be able to contribute towards shaping wider health care policy is a whole other privilege.
You remain up-to-date with the current state of play across the wider healthcare landscape and have a chance to actively feed your concerns into ongoing consultations to shape future policy. There are many gains. It’s sociable, you meet and mingle with many different people and sometimes you are motivated by them. You never run out of drive although you may energy. You can become part of a supportive network of socially aware doctors. It’s inspirational and pushes you to accomplish more at all levels.
A lot of the work you do is in your own time and often is not recognised. For the first time in my five years spent within medical politics, I am occasionally paid to attend meetings and contribute, mainly in my role as an LMC representative.
As in any walk of life, it takes time for others you meet to trust you and take your views seriously, which can be frustrating at the start.
To me the key attributes in this line of work are patience, people skills, and an ability to frame your arguments diplomatically.