Dr. Aman Amir is a General Practitioner and lecturer at the University of Manchester, with training in Neurosurgery and Trauma Surgery. He grew up in Yorkshire, and after sitting his A-Levels gained admission to Liverpool Medical School in 1996.
After his house job at Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Dr. Amir went down to Cardiff to complete Surgical Training before spending some time working in Australia. He then returned to UK and retrained in General Practice.
Dr. Amir is a member of the Royal College of General Practitioners, a Diplomat of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive health, a Senior Fellow of Higher Education and for the past 7/8 years has been with Manchester Medical School were he works within Community Based Medial Education, in addition to having the role of OSCE examiner and Academic Adviser.
Dr. Amir is a keen fundraiser, a fictional writer (‘Annie! Are you OK?’ and ‘Askew’) and radio show host (Music and Medical Matters).
Q1. How early can a person know that they want to be a doctor?
I think it might be different for each of us. Some people have a moment very early on and that inspiration can push one towards a particular goal— for some people things unravel and it becomes more apparent what path one has to follow. If we look at the decisions young people need to make at GCSE/ A-level times — before Year 10 —which subjects to take? Will they do well? Which subjects are needed for what? I think that’s very early in ones life. These decisions are guided by family/ friends/ teachers— not all of which might have accurate information about the actual job/ roles/ responsibilities of being a doctor. Some pupils will be naturally good at certain subjects and therefore pick those, whereas some will feel they have to pick those in order to meet requirements. In my case, I knew at a very young age— 8 ish that I wanted to become a doctor when I grew up— but having that feeling isn’t enough. One has to be prepared to put the effort in—GCSEs, A-levels, the degree itself and then post graduate training. Its a never ending journey of self development and discovery. Dedication and commitment, along side service provision, is a lifetime vocation not a job. At school and college, careers discussions view most career paths as jobs— so young people might see something as an endpoint and not really grasp the journey that might be involved.
Q2. Can personality be trained within medicine to make a better doctor?
By the age of 16/17 the basics have probably set in — hopefully people have some great role models who they want to emulate and some interests developing outside of studying — sports/ arts/ music etc. When we look at applications, all the candidates have the high grades and most seem to have lots of interests outside of school as well— these people come across as bright and balanced. The process is such, that due to competition, candidates have to stand out. But is a 16/17 year old really the finished article?
A friend recently joked ‘ My God on paper you sound amazing!’. But do patients and colleagues read your cv? I think the idea is that, having a variety of interests allows you to find outlets to relieve from stress/ broaden ones mind and access to different people— we celebrate diversity and this is what connects us to our patients— respecting their individuality. A lot is said about the academic struggles of Medical School, but then how do students prepare themselves for the 12+hour shifts they will do as junior doctors? Maintaining good mental and physical health doesn’t happen over a few years— it’s a lifetime thing. At medical school students come into contact with fellow students/ teaching staff/ mentors/ patients and so have an opportunity to build and learn a lot from their surroundings. The journey of life itself ( making friends / relationships/ disappointments/ fatigue/ failure) adds to one’s personality. We can learn about diseases, but being a doctor is about trying to understand an illness in the context of the individual suffering from that condition. Things like empathy and communication are not separate from clinical understanding. We do a lot of critical and clinical reasoning with our students and these sessions try to get people to think about their thinking! Experience is a huge thing in ones clinical journey— understanding and appreciating uncertainty and therefore being able to manage uncertainty is also something that we improve with time. Things are not black and white — and definitely not in clinical medicine.
Q3. Why do you think people lose motivation in medicine?
It does happen — it’s a longer course than most— friends on other courses are graduating by the time a medical student only reaches halfway, and some opt for intercalation and this lengthens their time further. A student who flew through GCSEs/A-Levels and thought ‘ I’m bright enough to become a doctor’ might then realise that they don’t necessarily want to be ‘clinical’. They might want to pursue academic medicine— not all aspects of the course will uniformly enthuse everyone. Maybe it isn’t what they were led to believe it was— student loans/ fees/ life starts to become apparent and the shine might be lost. There is a massive culture change from school to university education and not everyone adapts well. I’m sure there is a feeling of ‘ I’m paying for this— I want to know what’s important for exams etc’ and so the personal development reasoning element might suffer as students tailor their learning to simply passing exams and getting through.
Q4. How do the qualities needed to be a good doctor differ between GP and surgery?
Each specialty will concentrate on specific areas and skill sets. The obvious one in surgery is having dexterity, but I actually think surgeons also need to be very effective communicators— explaining procedures to patients and obtaining consent requires a level of understanding of not just the operation, but an assessment of the fears, concerns and expectations of patients.
The duties of a doctor set out by the GMC and apply to all medical practitioners in all specialties. Understanding the clinical picture and the patients, helping patients coming to terms with their diagnosis, and supporting them in decision making is something all doctors do and this is why we encourage our medical students to think about these things irrespective of what specialty they want to pursue.
Q5. What advice would you have for people with disabilities applying to medical school?
Brilliant question! I was teaching a group of 10 recently — it was on the 4th floor of a GP surgery with no lift. One student used crutches and although they managed to reach the top floor, I was so embarrassed. I asked faculty to change the location, as the student attended every week, but for that block the location couldn’t be changed.
It’s for society to try their best to include people of different backgrounds and abilities. Most buildings have made adjustments for such (wheelchair access etc).
I remember when I was a student one of my batch struggled with mobility, but they graduated and carried on with their career in medicine. I recently bumped into them at a hospital on a night shift— so it is possible to do, but I’m sure it’s not easy.
The things to consider really are that there are many challenges in medical training and the career ahead – both mental and physical for the able bodied and challenged alike. If one has that determination and support from peers / mentors and from an early point in GCSE training, then why can’t they try to get into and stay in medicine regardless of their situation?
Q6. Should we all be taking Vitamin D supplementation all year around, and if so how much?
Nearly 10 years ago I started routinely checking patients vitamin D levels. At this time it wasn’t a routine thing to check by many doctors. Of course in certain groups one might prescribe vitamin D supplements, but I think increasingly in the winter months it can be suspected that low vitamin D might be contributing to low mood/ skin/ hair/ fatigue/ aches and pains.
About 4 years ago I noticed I was getting longer and lasting spells of viral episodes – I might have been overworked etc. But once I took vitamin D daily, I found this has significantly reduced! So yes, I can see benefit for vitamin D.
A lot of my patients are young or elderly, and of different ethnic groups whom suffer from low vitamin D levels. So, depending on their actual levels, we do replace/ supplement.
There was some suggestion some time back that they wanted it in the water— this needs more research. At The moment mainly anecdotal.
Q7. How do you get into lecturing alongside your role as a GP?
I’ve been interested in teaching throughout my medical career. Most medical schools have informal mentoring from senior students and there’s a culture of support offered from peers. When I was a first year, I was guided by senior years and so as I became more senior at medical school I was involved in teaching and taking part in OSCEs for junior years. Getting involved in the various student societies also helped.
As a junior doctor I was teaching medical students. My interest in students and juniors doctors’ experiences and learning needs drove me to get more involved in formal teaching roles.
I gain great pleasure in supporting and passing on what I’ve experienced and learned over the years. I’ve made some great friends through it as well.
I would like to thank Dr. Aman Amir immensely for taking the time to be interviewed – this short blog will have a lasting impact on so many budding medical students/doctors!!