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This Doctor Can: Sofia Mughal

For South Asian Heritage Month 2021, physician associate Sofia Mughal tells us how her Pakistani heritage has shaped her life and career.

My late grandfather moved to the UK from Pakistan in search of a better life for his family. As a result, my dad grew up in Birmingham and worked incredibly hard, ending up in a job that involved working in multiple countries ­– and taking his family with him. Hence, I was fortunate enough to spend my childhood in the UK, Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi.

While studying human biosciences at university, I started to feel that working in research wasn’t for me, and instead I was leaning towards a more clinical role. With an interest in health and wellbeing, a career in medicine was always at the forefront of my mind – but I didn’t want to be a doctor. I wanted to work in healthcare, and have a career that offered continuous opportunities to learn, but with flexible working, too. I was looking for a career where I would be challenged outside to go beyond my comfort zone, and also feel empowered to help people of all ages and backgrounds. Fortunately for me, while in my final year at university, my course mentor introduced me to the  physician associate (PA) course.

Sometimes, in south Asian families, conflicts arise when adolescents wish to pursue an unconventional career path, rather than becoming a doctor, dentist, engineer or lawyer. I am proud to be the first in our family to enter a career in medicine, but at the same time I’m grateful to grow up having never felt pressured to do so. Nevertheless, despite the diversity of our backgrounds, south Asians have a shared system of traditions and cultural values. Although I was exposed to a variety of cultures from a young age, my parents followed an authoritative parenting style, ensuring that I did not forget my Pakistani roots. I believe this approach has subsequently moulded and shaped who I have grown up to become. I’m the oldest of three children, and the opportunities I have had in my career are most certainly linked to the sacrifices my parents made in order to ensure all of us had a good education. I went to school with other kids from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, and I absorbed a lot of information about other people’s cultures. My parents brought me up in a way that balanced our Pakistani heritage and our life in the UK.

I did fairly well during my internal university exams, but the external nationals were a bit of a rollercoaster. PA students only have three attempts at their national exam; I had failed twice and had reached my last chance. I was very close to giving up. However, I promised made myself that if I was able to pass the nationals, I would do everything I could to make sure no one made the same mistakes I did – and to support other student PAs to the best of my ability. After a lot of trial and error, I learned the most effective ways to succeed as a PA student, and co-founded my company, Matrix Education, with my fiancé. I started the venture when I was a newly qualified PA, and faced criticism from a small group of other PAs, who were concerned by my lack of experience. However, I was determined to keep going, and reminded myself why I started the project in the first place. I have since helped hundreds of PA students pass their national exams, published a textbook, and created the first app for PAs in the UK. Working as a PA in general practice has not only allowed me to achieve the work–life balance I wanted, but it has allowed me sustain a career in medicine, as well as giving me the time to become the fully fledged entrepreneur I know my south Asian parents would be proud of – even if it was via an unconventional route.