An Interview with Academic Clinical Fellow Anisa Jafar

Written By,

Anna Casey, InciSioN UK representative for Brighton and Sussex Medical School

Anisa is an NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer in Emergency Medicine based clinically at Manchester Foundation Trust. She completed her PhD at the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (HCRI) in 2019 in the area of medical-record keeping in sudden onset disasters. Her academic clinical training in Emergency Medicine has taken place mainly in North West England.  She has also studied/worked in London (UK), Pakistan, France and KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa). She completed her DTM&H at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and her MPH from the University of Manchester.

~ From

How would you describe yourself professionally? What’s on your plate?

I am a higher speciality trainee in emergency medicine (EM) and NIHR academic clinical lecturer which means half of my plate is made up of everything you’d expect an EM registrar to be doing clinically and the other half is made up of research. A combination of both tends to hang off the side of the plate, a bit like spaghetti might do.

What does a typical “day-in-the-life” involve?

Given my shift pattern working there is no “typical” day, however with small children in the house, at least someone needs to be alive and kicking by 8am and by 8pm we need to have enacted all the features of bed-time. Some days I will be working clinically (husband and parents baton-ing the relay of childcare), other days I might get a truly precious day working in the office at the university/hospital. The rest of the time is an exhausting mix of trying to work on my laptop with one or both children trying to sit on top of me, occasionally I have to abandon the attempt and retry after 8pm! I always think this sounds exaggerated, except that those who have experienced it (especially given lockdown) will recognise it far too well. As if they know I’m typing this, it is happening right now. Pre-COVID-19, there were a lot more conferences and courses through the year, some local, national and international as well as opportunities for meeting colleagues to develop research projects. Now of course, some of these things still happen, albeit online.

What are your research interests, and how did you come to them?

My interest in research is, and always has been, driven primarily by my interest in global health. I recognised fairly early that creating a place in my career for research would give me the space and time I wanted to focus on humanitarian response and global health, without needing to divert from my clinical interest in emergency medicine. As it happened, the more engaged in research I have become, the more valuable I have found it. The areas which interest me are quite broad however the emerging themes include: data integrity and what can be really understood by the data we collect (this usually requires both a quantitative and qualitative component and definitely a social sciences perspective rather than purely health sciences); improvements in data collection by focusing on the minimum requirements and barriers to completion; connecting people and information together especially in UK EM where people have global health interests. I have been fortunate to have had support and mentorship from those involved in global health and/or EM research. One of the most rewarding aspects of being cross-disciplinary is being able to bring talented senior and junior colleagues into the same space and use their skills together to produce some really exciting and valuable collaborations.

How could someone get involved in that area, if they’re a keen student/early years doctor?

The answer to this is a lot easier than people think because there are opportunities everywhere, if you are willing to look for them and approach them positively. In every healthcare setting, whether it is academic, clinical or otherwise, there is an aspect of global health being worked on. This could be in the form of health promotion and public health, infectious diseases, looking after hard-to-reach groups, translation services, health economics… the list is endless. Equally, people from all over the world are working as our colleagues, a conversation in a coffee room can easily develop into something interesting. Not every avenue or conversation will lead somewhere and you need to remain positive despite this. However, if you have enough conversations with enough people eventually something will develop, if you are willing to follow it through. This latter part is very important, if you commit to taking something on and deliver, it is very important that you do that whilst consciously recognising and reflecting upon the skills you are developing along the way, even if they are more tangential than first anticipated. Reputation goes a long way, and if you are considered a “safe” pair of hands, it is very likely you will be recommended to others, and before long, opportunities will seem endless. One note of caution however, global health is and should be a LOT more than a very romanticised notion of delivering healthcare abroad. It definitely isn’t wrong in itself to want to deliver healthcare in low resource or crisis settings. However there are many dimensions to this, and understanding the wider global political landscape and the history of the aid industry are two of many, many areas you can add real value to your future career by simply sitting at your desk. Certainly this grounding is likely to mean any work you might involve yourself in internationally, be it clinical or research, is approached with more consideration and wisdom.

In terms of global health, what’s one of the most important conversations happening at the moment?

At this moment definitely one of the most important conversations is around the fall-out from COVID-19 especially in low resource settings. Trying to plan for and mitigate the economic downturn and diversion of critical funding is of utmost importance. Otherwise the hundreds of thousands dying from COVID-19 will, in 5-10 years time, be overshadowed multi-fold by the excess deaths from those whose HIV management has been impacted; whose TB treatment is inaccessible; whose sole healthcare provision is no longer running because it has no funding; whose childhood vaccination programme is paused; whose replacement mosquito nets are delayed due to limits on international travel; whose overwhelming malnutrition was impounded by growing food insecurity… it goes on.

What advice would you give yourself in your first year of medical school?

There is no time like the present: you will, in most cases, never quite have more time, energy and opportunity than you do right now, believe it or not. And this advice continues to be true as each year of life progresses. Even my own time in medical school, which felt very full at the time, in retrospect, had I known what I know now about the realities of juggling grown-up life (which, in fairness, there are many in medical school doing the same: kudos to them, and if you aren’t one of them, you’d do well to talk to them and listen to some of their wisdom!) I suspect there was more I might have squeezed out of it. The main point here is that there is no golden moment in the future: yes there are times which aren’t yet upon you which will qualify you for certain things which you cannot yet do. However for each one of these things, there are a hundred or a thousand others, which, if you think are important, don’t put them off. One example of this is definitely: “one day I’d like to learn X language”…

What’s your proudest achievement?

I’m not sure if I can claim to have achieved it just yet, however I am proud of my ongoing attempts to achieve some semblance of balance between work and family life such that I don’t look back at this time when the boys are small, with too many regrets.

Favourite biscuit?

Biscuits are a dangerous hobby and it very much depends on my mood (or indeed what is in the cupboard). A cookie with adequately large and numerous chocolate chips is hard to decline (especially if they are Belgian), as is a chocolate viennese however a newly rated favourite is the jammie dodger. Unless jaffa cakes count? In fact, just send me them all.

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