Zeshan Qureshi, author of the textbook series The Unofficial Guide to Medicine
Leave your ego at the door
Zeshan Qureshi is an academic and clinical paediatrician, with a special interest in global health and medical education. He works at King’s College Hospital, London, with his academic work linked to the Institute of Global Health, University College London. He graduated with distinction from the University of Southampton in 2009 and has published and presented research in the fields of pharmacology, global health, and medical education. While working in Edinburgh he was part of a leadership team which developed a near peer teaching programme, whereby junior doctors throughout south east Scotland were trained to teach and then delivered teaching themselves across every hospital in the area. Zeshan has also led the successful Unofficial Guide to Medicine series, which regularly tops Amazon’s bestseller list for medical books. In 2015, he won highly commended awards for The Unofficial Guide to Radiology and The Unofficial Guide to Medical Research, Audit and Teaching at the BMA medical book awards as well as the new leader award from the Association for the Study of Medical Education Research. His research interests include looking at the benefits of involving medical students and junior doctors in teaching, and looking at what can be done to reduce preventable stillbirths across the world.
Since graduating you have become prolific in the world of academia. When did you first discover your passion for medical education?
My passion came when I first observed that students value a well prepared teaching session. At medical school I loved teaching, but it was difficult to reach a large number of students by myself. So I began to think about how I could create opportunities to help others to teach. I set up a teaching programme called Bedside Teachers, which put junior doctors who wanted to teach in touch with students who wanted to learn via an online learning portal. We then linked this to other junior doctor led teaching initiatives within the NHS and held teacher training days so everyone would get the most out of being a teacher and being taught. In 2010-11, through this set-up, 108 tutors delivered 324 tutorials to a cumulative attendance of 1923 students across south east Scotland.
What attracted you to global health?
My attraction to global health was a gut instinct: that there was a huge potential to make an impact. I’ve also had great mentors who gave me opportunities that I could never have found on my own, such as getting involved in setting up global biobanks across Tanzania, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and getting involved in advocacy work for stillbirth prevention.
What I’ve found most satisfying is working as part of big teams of experts to create positive change. Everyone gets frustrated when there are clear solutions to major problems. For example, universal access to basic antenatal and emergency obstetric care would dramatically reduce the global stillbirth burden. These interventions aren’t deliberately being withheld though. Somewhere there is a communication gap or a resource gap. The challenge for us is to work out how to sensitively overcome this.
What sort of impact can doctors of tomorrow have on the future of global health?
Medical students can make an impact now. Their drive, intellect, and sense of altruism is what global health needs. It’s far easier to get involved than you might think. For example, when the sustainable development goals—which determine the global health agenda for the next 15 years—were being finalised, the committee invited anyone and everyone to email in with their opinions—a simple way to make a big difference.
Within medical school, student societies are bigger than ever before: find one that fits with your passions, and work with them as a collective voice. For example, Medsin is a great student society with a national global health conference. I love being emailed by enthusiastic people that want to have an impact, and I always reply.
What keeps you motivated and dedicated to your academic pursuits?
My mentors. I’ve always worked with people that believed in me and who gave me the opportunity to explore my ideas. Without a mentor who is willing to give you opportunities, to shield you from politics, and to help bring your work up to publishable standards, it’s hard to make your break.
How did you manage to write textbooks while still training as a doctor?
I work with the right people and I prioritise. And I keep myself healthy and happy, which increases my resilience and productivity. I went to the Edinburgh School of Food and Wine one summer, and the chef made it clear that you can have a tasty and a healthy diet, so that’s what I do. I cook when I can: mainly Indian recipes my mum taught me. Exercise is important to me too: I’m a member of a local tennis club and enjoy running. I also make a point of keeping in touch with as many friends as possible: socialising is always a great way to unwind, plus I’ve been able to rely on friends to guide me through difficult circumstances.
What advice do you have for medical students who would like to follow a similar path to you?
I think the most valuable trait you can have is self belief. The hardest thing is getting people to listen when you don’t have a platform or an academic title behind you. I found mentors that believed in me, and then approached the academic world with them together.
Also, you should leave your ego at the door and never be embarrassed to realise that you were wrong. On my first day as a doctor I was asked to review an older woman on the respiratory ward. She immediately started complimenting me: “You have the most beautiful eyes, if I was younger I’d have to snap you up.” I wasn’t used to such chat and couldn’t help but feel that the title of doctor had elevated me somewhat. So I thought she was fine, but 30 minutes later she became pyrexial, hypotensive, and tachycardic. We sent off her urine and it turned out that what I interpreted as flirtation was most likely confusion secondary to a raging Escherichia coli urinary tract infection. Being wrong is a great learning opportunity.
If you could go back and do it all again, is there anything you would have done differently?
When I work on a new textbook, I try and plan in advance; give everyone fixed, defined roles; and talk through potential problems and how they might be dealt with, such as conflicting commitments and editorial control. That way there is a pre-agreed plan for all worst case scenarios, so everyone knows what to expect.
If I could go back “and do it all again,” I’d make sure I always planned for the worst. Luckily, with the teams I’ve got working with me, I’ve tended to experience the best.Abhishek Kumar, final year medical student, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
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Cite this as: Student BMJ 2015;23:h5197