The Refugee Council runs support for London based refugee doctors to re-qualify to UK standards and secure employment appropriate to their professional qualifications. Farkhunda, one of the doctors we’ve helped, shares her story.
I never made a conscious decision to become a doctor. Back then in Afghanistan, ladies of my generation only really had two career options: medicine or teaching. My family were keen for me to study medicine, so I did.
I spent five years studying in Afghanistan before I had to leave: the Taliban had taken over and had closed down education for women. There was no safety or stability in the country. We fled to Pakistan and I spent the next two years continuing my studies at a university in Pakistan before coming to Britain in 2002 to join my husband.
When I arrived I could speak English, but I struggled to get my paperwork in order and navigating the system was tough.
In 2006 I applied to the General Medical Council (GMC) for registration. They rejected me. I was devastated. They refused to recognise my primary medical qualifications from Pakistan as the university I’d attended hadn’t been registered with the World Health Organisation.
I didn’t know what to do. I gave up.
The following year, I had my second child but I was still thinking about my future. I’ve always been ambitious; my career is part of my identity. Without it, I didn’t know who I was.
I managed to resume my studies in 2011 and re-did the last two years of my primary medical qualification. After that, I began my re-qualification in Britain.
I was never just studying though; I am a wife and mother too and I had lots of other important responsibilities. It was an exceptionally chaotic time in my life; I was depressed, stressed and trying to study. I was lost.
During that time, I found the Refugee Council’s healthcare professionals programme very useful; I was helped in so many ways from exam preparation classes, to financial and moral support. I would stay at the Refugee Council studying until the building closed and the help I had finding work experience – a clinical attachment – was invaluable.
The project coordinator, Fahira Mulamehic, has been a tremendous support; she’s always been there for me. When I lost hope, my faith in Allah and the support of others – people like Fahira and Louise Salmon at RAGU – kept me going. I don’t know how to thank them.
Even after I had passed all of my exams, I then had to get through the GMC registration procedure. They’re really tough with their checking process. When they were trying to verify my primary medical qualification I was asked to provide specific dates and hours of study which were extremely hard to get. There are no computer records of this data in Afghanistan: and lots of documents were lost or burned during the war. It was a hard job to sort out so much paperwork and documentation from my former University before I was given my registration.
It was an extremely challenging time and I don’t know how I did it; sometimes I don’t know if I’m human or if I’m made of metal.
Other refugee doctors arriving in Britain will face a range of different challenges, but I think it’s important to remember that you’re a doctor anywhere in the world. Don’t underestimate your knowledge and abilities. It’s important not to give up; the opportunities are there, you’ve just got to grab them. I never thought I’d get to where I am, but now I’m smiling after overcoming extremely challenging barriers and obstacles.
When I arrived in Britain I didn’t know what the future would hold, where I would end up or what I would face.
I had such a long wait and then everything has come so quickly: it’s been three weeks since I have my GMC registration and I I’ve got a job in a London hospital and it hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s difficult for me to absorb the last 13 years in three weeks.
As well as helping people through medicine, I want to be an inspiration for other women from my country and a role model for my children. I want to help fight for Afghan women’s rights. I’ve been through what they’re going through, but I want them to know that they can do anything; that they’re strong enough. Women shouldn’t let cultural barriers prevent them from achieving and reaching their goals.
I imagine on my first day at work I’ll be nervous and excited. But I’ll also be proud. I’ve climbed many barriers, but the joy of achievement is something you can’t describe.