"Stop talking, start doing, and take control," an interview with Dr. Afsana Safa

August 18, 2016
Afsana Safa

Afsana Safa is a General Practitioner and a Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) Governing Body member from London, United Kingdom.

What is your current position?

I’m a general practitioner (GP) at the Marylebone Health Centre in Westminster. I’m also a governing body member of the Central London Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), where I lead on urgent care, cancer, and contract and quality management with a local tertiary hospital. I’m also a GP lead for Transforming Cancer Services for London. Lots of varied work!

Can you tell us about your career path?

I completed my medical training at Imperial College London, and obtained my clinical postgraduate qualifications from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of General Practitioners, both in London. After this I was a Darzi Fellow at the Kings Fund - which was a year working in management, and obtained a postgraduate certificate in healthcare management and leadership from Manchester Business School. I love being a GP (family physician) because of the incredible personal connections you form with patients over time and the sheer variety of clinical conditions you come into contact with. No two days are the same, and although it’s incredibly demanding, I often see the rewards of my work daily.

I recently returned from working with the Syrian American Medical Society with refugees in Northern Greece. My role was Medical Coordinator and I was responsible for creating medical clinics in both the formal and informal camps, working with local and national government, managing logistics and volunteers, and thinking through some of the strategic and quality improvement that was required. It was very much like a start-up at this point in time – we were quite literally putting up the tarps, buyng tents, and creating local taxi Whatsapp groups to be able to transport patients who needed dialysis to the local hospitals. Lots of thinking quickly and creatively! It was unlike anything I’d experienced before. The situation for the refugees is so difficult, despite local people and volunteers trying their best with what little they have. The clinical and mental health needs continue to be great, and we now need to start advocating for them to outside agencies too. 

Can you share your top career goal?

I don’t have a clear ‘job title’ that I’m aiming for, but my goal is to strive to improve healthcare for patients and healthcare workers where possible, and to always do the best that I can in the role I’m currently occupying. One burning career goal is to stop talking, start doing and take more control. I want to go back and take action to implement some of the ideas that this course has given me in relation to my work at home.

What is the biggest challenge you face in meeting your goal?

There is a lot of fatigue in general practice and in the NHS right now. We’re in a really unusual, difficult political situation and a dire financial situation with rapidly increasing workloads. This is creating exhaustion and a lot of unhappiness, making it harder to change things in the system, because people are less open to change. It’s quite a difficult time to come with new ideas and try to get support for them.

What impact do you think GHDI will have on your career?

I’ve met so many incredible people here, and I’ve learned a lot from them. I’m really excited about keeping in contact and continuing to learn from this network. Ultimately our goals are all very similar, but when working in different areas, with different cultures in different systems, people view things from a different lens, which is quite refreshing to bring back to what we do in our day jobs. 

In the NHS one big problem we have is monitoring and evaluating [M and E] existing programs, and after our talk on M and E, I’m wondering if we can partner with academic institutions for this purpose. That’s one of the things I will go back and look into. I’d like to also build evaluative mechanisms into the planning stages of projects and picked up some ideas from Anjali Sastry. In terms of leadership, I found our conversations about individuals, not necessarily being the figurehead to lead a project but thinking of it as a team effort, very useful. 

What are you most proud of?

I’m proud of working to improve our health system at such an early stage in my career. I’m proud that I’m working in a range of areas to improve outcomes for my patients. And finally my latest work with the Syrian American Medical Society in Greece made me very proud. To be part of the SAMS effort in the refugee camps was a real privilege.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in health care in your country?

I would say ‘get involved’. You might think there are lots of barriers, you don’t know where to go, who to contact. But really, you just need to show some interest and initiative, and the opportunities are out there. Find a mentor. Try coaching. There are a lot of opportunities and people willing to offer guidance. You just need to reach out and get involved.