Rhana Zakri is a transplant surgeon. But she doesn’t fit our usual stereotype of a middle-aged, white man when imagining surgeons, being a young, Asian female.

Even so, she was able to overcome these stereotypes and people who tried to dissuade her from becoming a surgeon, saying ‘you’re a female, don’t do surgery’ and ‘it’s too competitive, don’t do surgery’. Despite her success, she still attributes her attainment to support from her family and mentors, including Dr Khan and especially her father. ‘You got this far being who you are,’ he said. ‘So just continue what you’re doing, and you’ll get to where you want to be’. These few lines of advice went a long way, with Ms Zakri passing on the advice to future medical students. It also motivated her to establish a charity, alongside members of her family, named ‘Gulgeez Medics’ after her late father. It provides free eye care to people in need in Africa and Asia.

Guy’s Hospital, where she works, does transplants for adults and for children. She specializes in kidney and pancreas transplants, with surgeries taking up to 8 hours. She says she enjoys her job, finding it exhilarating and exciting but most of all humbling, having seen the difference a transplant can make to people’s lives.

She admits that she is probably guilty of taking her work home with her. Since she spends most of her time in a stressful work environment, she finds it difficult to switch off without worrying about her patients and how they’re doing, or what she could have done differently during the operation. She admits that people in the medical profession are probably often guilty of this and it takes a conscious effort to try to ‘switch off’, disproving the common stereotype that surgeons are detached and somewhat uncaring. She also says that although some surgeons operate on children, she does not do so herself due to the higher emotional investment.

Ms Zakri also spoke on some current issues in the world of medicine and surgery. When asked about the new ‘opt-out’ system, where it is assumed that you are willing to donate organs after you die unless you say otherwise, she would definitely consider it to be a good thing but it may also cause problems for some people. ‘People may feel alienated.’, she says. ‘They may feel that the government are owning their bodies and that they don’t have a choice in the matter’. This is why she says that education on the matter is so important because it’s not just about having the opt-out but also about raising awareness. Publicity about the opt-out scheme has made people aware of the fact that there are not enough organs to meet demand, encouraging more donors to come forward. Other initiatives such as donor chains have increased the availability of suitable organs.

She points out that ethnic minorities may be some of the most affected by a lack of donors as they have a higher demand for organs but are often not keen to donate, making them less likely to be able to find a suitable match. She says that this also comes down to education across all communities.

She also has open-minded views when looking to the future, saying that, again, with the help of education, women and people of ethnic minorities can be encouraged into the field, believing it to be very beneficial to see mentors and role models already in the field from the same community. Although some people worry that young people may not have the manual dexterity and fine motor skills to make good surgeons in the future due to the amount of time spent swiping on phones or tablets, she believes that they will just have a different skill set to offer. She says that the gaming side of things means that young people who play video games are often much better at things like laparoscopic and robotic surgery. These new skills could be very beneficial to the industry as there is now a move towards minimally invasive surgery which leaves a smaller wound and less chance of infection as well as, hopefully, a shorter stay in the hospital, freeing up beds. She does not think that the younger generation is unskilled, instead believing that they have different abilities which are becoming necessary as we change with the times.

 “Often it’s not other people that hold you back, it’s yourself, it’s the sort of anxieties within yourself so if you’re okay in yourself, if you’re comfortable with yourself, nobody else can stop you doing what you want.”

 - Rhana Zakri