Dr Naila Ashfaque is a Pakistani doctor who is currently working in UK and got a number of medical degrees like MBBS (Pakistan), MD (USA) and PLAB, MRCEM and MRCP (UK). She got these degrees while perusing family commitments and having 4 kids! Read what does she say about her struggle.
I always wanted to share my story of Postgraduate Medical Training but couldn’t write it earlier because of busy professional and family life. Today I would like to take this opportunity to share my journey with all of you, especially females.
I am a graduate of Baqai Medical University, Karachi. My journey is a journey of every middle class girl who dreams to do something big and extraordinary in life. To turn my dream into reality, I followed these simple rules and suggest you to do the same.
1: Don’t waste time during your under graduation. Study enough hard to save time afterwards because as soon as you graduate, your clock starts. There is immense pressure on you by family to get married. So, as long you are in Medical College, you have a protected shield. Everyone is happy to support you for studies. So utilize this time at best. Read from text books and reference books. Try to avoid review books. Study for 4-5 hours daily. Don’t break this schedule.
2: Start your House Job immediately after graduation. Don’t delay it unless you are getting married or there is strong reason for so, like pregnancy etc. Always do House Job in Medicine and Surgery, 6 months each, as this is acceptable pattern of GMC. House job should not stop you from studying. Make sure whatever patients you see, you study well on their cases, plus continue with your home study routine as you were doing in Medical College.
3: Always take FCPS-1 exam whether you want to stay in Pakistan or not. I cleared it one month after my House Job. Here your previous hard work matters. If you have studied well before, then FCPS-1 can be done in 2-3 months preparation. (Remember this was not my goal, this was my back up plan!)
4: Don’t delay your marriage. Never turn down suitable proposals. My FCPS-1 result was announced on the day of my engagement. Trust me, your degrees and trainings will eventually be done if you are determinant. Career breaks are common here in West so don’t worry about it. Make 10 years plan; 5 years for family and kids and 5 years for Post Graduate Training. Grab what comes first. Don’t turn down any blessing of Allah.
5: I spent quite tough time after marriage. I and my husband Dr Ash, both started our FCPS training at Dow University of Health Sciences, Karachi. Our salary was 6200 PKR at that time, which we didn’t use to get for 3-6 months. We started teaching medical students at our home, which made our life little easier. After doing duties of 36 hours, we both used to teach medical students and then in night, do our own study.
6: During our training, we studied for USMLE. Despite of such hard work, we couldn’t save enough to pay for this exam. Here my husband’s uncle stepped in. He gave us full freedom and said, “Book whatever exam you like, book all in one go, do whatever you like. I will pay fee for both of you”.
7: Here comes the turning point in our life. Now we were not worried about finances. We just had to study, study and study. We both cleared step 1 and step 2 CK of USMLE in next 6 months, meanwhile doing full time training at DUHS, Karachi.
8: Because of complicated Visa system of USA, we decided to go for PLAB. We joined an academy in Karachi for the preparation of PLAB exam. After passing IELTS, PLAB-1 was just a piece of cake for us because of vast knowledge of FCPS and USMLE exams. We didn’t had to study anything for PLAB-1. We just walked through it and then cleared PLAB-2 as well. During this time, I went to USA, passed USMLE Step 2 CS and got attachment there. During my USMLE step 3 exam, I was 8 month pregnant! Here I completed my GMC and USMLE in 2009.
9: My husband got a nice job in UK, so I preferred UK over USA. I also got job in the same hospital where my husband worked, in fact not only same hospital, we got same department and same job title as well.
10: I decided to take MRCEM exam. This was not easy. I had to work so hard, as I had a kid, a full time job and home chores to do. I passed Part A and B. During the preparation of Part C, I gave birth to twin baby boys. My mother supported me a lot during this time. My husband fully prepared me for this exam and I passed Part C as well.
11: During above period, I took MRCP exam also and cleared part 1 and 2 both in one go. I studied for these exams during my pregnancy.
Now I was MBBS, MD and MRCEM with 3 kids.
12: Then I had to take MRCP PACES exam to get the degree of MRCP. This was the toughest exam for me. I recently gave birth to my fourth child. I again asked my mother to help me and look after my kids. She came again to UK from Pakistan to rescue me. Also my husband again spent days and nights to help me to prepare this exam and I passed MRCP PACES in 2018.
Now I got all 4 degrees, MBBS, MD, MRCEM and MRCP with 4 kids.
Girls! You all can achieve this. Being a girl is no less than a blessing. Every one is ready to help you. All you have to do is just ask for help. Be submissive, don’t be arrogant. Be strong but don’t show your strength unless needed. Use strength of your father, your brother, your husband and of all family members. If a girl is standing by road with flat tire, 100 people will come forward to help her. So try and use this help, unlike poor men who have to change their tire themselves.
Avoid social crap. Be nice to everyone. Don’t end up in unnecessary arguments as this will push people away from you. Don’t try to be an alien, means don’t do things against the norm, otherwise you will burn out yourself. I was from Punjabi family and married in Memon family. There was a big cultural difference, yet I managed by observing and smiling.
Remember, you will need 2 people by your side, your mother and your husband if you are married. Your mother is the only one who can look after your kids in your absence, better than you. It would be your mother who comes and rescues you during times of pregnancy, maternities and child cares. I am lucky that I got a strong mother.
Your husband is the person who can make impossible into possible. Make good bonding with him, discuss your plans with him. Make it sure to love and respect his family the same as you do to yours.
I had few career gaps but I never left my books. Your busy family life may stop you from going to work but trust me, no one can stop you from studying. Even if you are at home, you must study. Keep your bond strong with Medical books and forums. Keep attempting exams, one day you will get through.
And last but not the least, always give something back to your people, to your family and to others. Despite of my academic and job commitments, I tried my best to support my family wherever needed.
From above post, you can imagine how many people are involved in the success of one person; my mother, my father, my husband and my in-laws. They all supported me to their best. So please try to take as many people on your side as you can. Out of 6 billion people on earth, you have only 10-20 friends and family members who can do something for you. So love and respect everyone around you. Don’t do political or religious debates. May be your Barelvi brother-in-law do pick and drop for you, your Deobandi father-in-law pray day and night for you, your PMLN cousin print out notes for you, your PTI cousin arrange airport pick ups for you and your PPP uncle arrange accommodation for you in other country.
I am actively Involved in teaching in Pakistan. I have visited Karachi, Lahore and Swat for PLAB and EM courses.
Currently I have been offered a post of Consultant in Emergency Medicine, UK which I will be starting soon.
Hope it will help many.
Remember in your prayers.
Dr Naila Ashfaque.
MBBS, MD, MRCEM, MRCP.
Registrar EM, NHS UK.
Director, London Clinical Courses.