Alumni

Alumni profile - Anthony James

The journey of self-discovery for LGBT+ people is often a stressful and scary time, but one benefit of all the soul searching that comes with this is the development of a deep understanding and self-awareness of out characters, ambitions, strengths and weaknesses.
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You completed your MBBS, followed by a Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Dermatology a few years down the line. Tell us about your studies and how the courses you studied have helped to shape your career.

I started at Barts and The London back in 2007, which feels like a very long time ago now. Throughout my studies, there was always a big emphasis placed on communication skills and the patient-doctor relationship, which I think ultimately led me towards pursuing general practice as a specialty, where relationship-based care is at the centre of everything we do.

I had some really fantastic GP placements during medical school, which opened my eyes to the flexibility and opportunities that can be offered by a career in general practice. When I first started out in my GP training, I was all set on having a portfolio career with one or two areas of special clinical interest, which ultimately led me to completing the Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Dermatology. This was a brilliant course, that made me a much stronger clinician and has allowed me to provide a higher level of care to the large numbers of patients presenting to primary care with skin disorders.

My time at Barts and The London was also very much about self-discovery. When I started university I was still learning who I was, including accepting and celebrating my sexuality, which is definitely something I was still struggling with at the time. My university days were defined by exposure to so many different experiences, people and opportunities that helped me to find out and feel more confident in who I am.  I finished my studies with the skills, but perhaps most importantly a new found confidence and self-esteem that has really allowed me to thrive and succeed.

What are your plans and your next steps for your career?

Something I’ve learnt about careers, is that they are very much a journey, one where the destination is often unknown. Over the last few years I have had so many opportunities I would never have been able to predict, which have come through a combination of exploring and networking, with a definite big pinch of luck and being in the right place at the right time.  At the minute, I feel in a really fortunate position to be able to balance a medical and business career, which brings me a lot of joy and fulfilment.

For the next few years I am going to be focused on continuing to maintain this balance – delivering high quality care, alongside growing PinkNews to reach an even wider audience. The next big change though will hopefully come in learning to balance a family alongside my career. Me and my husband were always on the same page about wanting to start a family and hopefully that will become a reality in the not too distant future.

You were also the Chair of Associate in Training Community at the Royal College of General Practitioners. Tell us about this role.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), is the professional membership body for all GPs working in the UK. It has over 60,000 members, including around 14,000 GP trainees, who are represented by a trainee community of reps. During my GP training I became actively involved in the RCGP, initially being elected as a rep in my local area of North and West London. I was motivated to get involved as I was interested to learn more about how the organisation worked and exactly what my annual subscription fees were going towards.

After becoming a rep, I became very active in College life, representing trainees, but also getting involved in other initiatives, such as around LGBT+ health inequalities. While I enjoyed the work our committee did, ultimately I found some of the processes and approach to how we worked quite unproductive and in need of reform. This led me to stand to be Chair of the trainee community, successfully being elected in November 2019.

I was able to achieve a huge amount during my term, which came to be defined by COVID-19 and the impact this had on training. Perhaps the biggest change I oversaw were changes to exams and assessment, which had to be introduced in response to the pandemic. These ultimately protected the GP training pipeline, allowing trainees to complete their training and take the next steps in their careers, while also ensuring the capacity for new trainees to join the profession and begin their journeys into general practice.

What was special about your time at Barts and The London? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments? 

The memories that stick most prominently in my mind are those in the final year of medical school. After so many years studying, the change in energy and sense of achievement amongst myself and my peer group was really palpable.

I’ll always remember opening my envelope on results day and seeing I had passed, which at times had felt like something I would never achieve! This was swiftly followed by our elective, where I got to travel to Peru for a few months, to practice medicine (and my very rusty Spanish) in a completely different way.

What activities were you involved with within the Students’ Association during your time in Medical School?

In the early years I took part in Teddy Bear Hospital, which was a lot of fun! I also joined a few different societies, including the early days of the LGBT+ society, which was a great addition.

What does LGBTQ+ History Month mean to you and why do you think it is important that we acknowledge the contributions of LGBTQ+ people throughout history and in present times? 

We have come such a long way in the fight for LGBT+ rights, both in the UK and around the world, particularly in the last 10-20 years. The rights and freedoms that I and many other members of the community enjoy today, are as a result of the work of tireless campaigners and activists, many of whom faced danger, abuse and rejection as a result of their actions. To me, LGBT+ History Month is about learning of and celebrating the work of these heroes and pioneers, while also recognising and reflecting on the fact that there is still a long way to go in the journey for LGBT+ rights.

Every year we see ongoing hostility towards the LGBT+ community in many places around the globe, with some countries having scaled back rights and protections for LGBT+ people in the last few years. This shows us that we have to continue to be vigilant and campaign for our rights, as nothing is permanent or certain for any minority community.

Every year we see ongoing hostility towards the LGBT+ community in many places around the globe, with some countries having scaled back rights and protections for LGBT+ people in the last few years. This shows us that we have to continue to be vigilant and campaign for our rights, as nothing is permanent or certain for any minority community. At home in the UK, this is most true for the trans community, who have been the victim of an ongoing campaign of misinformation for the last few years, with life for many sadly becoming harder, rather than easier as a direct result of this. I hope that in years to come, LGBT+ History Month will allows us to reflect on the successes we have continued to see for all members of the community, but until then we have to continue to learn, reflect and take action.

The theme for this LGBTQ+ History Month is ‘Body, Mind and Spirit’, how do you feel that these concepts differ between the LGBTQ+ community and the cisgender, heterosexual population? 

Everyone’s experience of being LGBT+ is different, but I feel my story is quite a common one. I knew I was gay from when I was about 10 years old, but struggled to come to terms with this for years, not starting to come out until I was about 17. The years in between meant that I missed out on a big chunk of my teenage years, times when people should be having their first loves, whirlwind romances and other formative relationships stalled, as I kept my true self hidden from friends and family.

The journey of self-discovery for LGBT+ people is often a stressful and scary time, but one benefit of all the soul searching that comes with this is the development of a deep understanding and self-awareness of our characters, ambitions, strengths and weaknesses. Going through this type of adversity can ultimately make us stronger and so to me ‘Body, Mind & Spirit’ represents this journey that every LGBT+ person has been on to find love, acceptance and pride.

What resources and services are available to support the mental health and wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community, both within the health sector and more widely?

We know that mental health issues are sadly much more common for LGBTQ+ people and that many members of the community find it difficult to access appropriate services. The reality is that service provision remains inadequate for LGBTQ+ people, with many sadly still experiencing a lack of understanding, or worse direct prejudice when engaging with health services.

For healthcare professionals, meaningful training, taking a person-centred approach to care and maintaining a culture of zero tolerance are essential to protecting and meeting the needs of not just the LGBTQ+, but all minority communities. Specifically for the LGBTQ+ community I was really proud to be part of the team who authored and developed the RCGP’s ‘LGBT+ Learning Hub’, a suite of resources that can help to create a more inclusive healthcare environment for the LGBTQ+ community. There are also initiatives such as the LGBT Foundations ‘Pride in Practice’ team, who provide a quality assurance framework and bronze, silver or gold awards to inclusive healthcare providers.

For LGBT+ people seeking support, I would say do not be afraid to contact your GP. Things are not perfect in primary care yet, but they are improving all the time. Healthcare professionals can often be a bit clumsy when discussing healthcare with LGBTQ+ people, but the vast majority are well-intentioned and genuinely passionate about providing the best quality care. Outside of this LGBTQ+ people have always found support in the charity and voluntary sector – these organisations are very much at the heart of our community – Stonewall, LGBT+ Switchboard, Mermaids, Gendered Intelligence and many more are out there to offer support.

Are there any LGBTQ+ historical figures you wish more people knew about? Or any present LGBTQ+ figures?

There are so many LGBTQ+ historical figures to choose from, but someone I think about often is definitely Alan Turing – a brilliant mind, but someone who unfortunately lived in a time where his identity ultimately cost him everything. It’s a sad reality, but the impact of prejudice – the lives lost, potential unfulfilled and people prevented from being themselves, casts a long shadow. Imagine the scientists, teachers, artists, actors, inventors and so many other incredible individuals we have been deprived of simply because society prevented them from living their truth.

A present day LGBTQ+ icon that more people should know about is Christine Burns – a trans activist, author and incredibly inspiring person. Christine has worked tirelessly towards creating a better future for the trans community and everyone should read her book ‘Trans Britain’.

 

What are some things you do/have done around LGBTQ+ awareness and activism?

In the healthcare world, I was one of the original members of the RCGP’s LGBT+ Steering Group. This group was formed to help tackle to health inequalities experienced by the LGBT+ community and we have been involved in a variety of initiatives from creating training resources to delivering courses. We also led the RCGP to become the first ever Medical Royal College to take part in a Pride march when we joined London, Brighton and Manchester Pride in 2019. I remember walking up to the College HQ on the day of the march and seeing the Pride flag flying from the top of building, a massively meaningful moment for me and my colleagues.

Outside of this I regularly give talks on LGBT+ healthcare and have organised a range of other training sessions, specifically looking at delivering care to the trans community.

For my LGBT+ work I was incredibly proud to be named one of the top 50 most influential GPs in the UK in the ‘Pulse Power 50’, a peer nominated list published each year.

How did you get involved with Pink News? What do you enjoy most about it?

My connection with PinkNews comes through my husband, Benjamin Cohen, who is the founder and CEO. For the last eight years since we met, I have seen the business grow and develop to become the world’s most read LGBT+ media brand, reaching more than 50 million unique users each month.

Having stood on the side-lines of the business as an adviser since we met, when I finished my GP training I finally had the opportunity to join the team as Director of Corporate Strategy, bringing my experiences from strategic planning in previous non-clinical roles to a new industry.

One of the reasons I chose to officially join the business was because of the fantastic team and culture that we have developed. Not only do we have incredible expertise and talent, but we are an organisation that can move quickly, do new things and adapt at pace. No two days are the same and we’re able to have a lot of fun – quizzes, mindfulness, lunch & learns etc in between the hard work. Underpinning everything is our corporate mission – to inform, inspire change and empower people to be themselves. PinkNews has proven time and time that it can push forward progress for LGBT+ people around the world and it feels special to be part of an organisation that truly sticks to its values.

What does your role as the Director of Corporate strategy for Pink News involve?

As Director of Corporate Strategy I work as part of the executive team to help plan, shape and communicate the future roadmap for the organisation. We are currently just finalising our 2021-2025 strategy, which has been a brilliant collaborative process to give clarity to our managers and wider team about our ambitions and top priorities for the years ahead. Putting together this type of strategy is a challenge, but also a fantastic opportunity to reflect on the amazing successes we have had as a company and how best to utilise the talent and expertise of our team.

Would you like to highlight any member(s) of the Barts and The London community, who you feel is particularly inspiring?

Hatim Abdulhussein

Hatim and I never met when we were at Barts, but connected when we were both part of the same cohort of The National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellow Scheme – a leadership fellowship that placed medical trainees from all specialties in different high-level roles in national organisations. Since the fellowship Hatim has continued his GP training, alongside becoming a clinical fellow in AI and robotics at Health Education England. He is also a trainee rep with The RCGP and we co-host a podcast together “Somewhere in Between” – aimed at discussing issues key to trainee and early career GPs.

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Sara Gazi. If you would like to get in touch with Anthony or engage him in your work, please contact Sara at s.gazi@qmul.ac.uk.