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Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

Dr Safiya Virji

Meet Dr Safiya Virji, a Senior Clinical Lecturer CBME and Deputy Head of Year 3 MBBS in the Institute of Health Sciences Education


Q.1 Can you describe your career path, current role and what attracted you to work at Queen Mary?

My most vivid memory from childhood is watching a scene on television of a team of British doctors walking on a sandy desert somewhere in Africa, being greeted by school-age children, who led them to a small hut to see a vulnerable family member needing medical assistance. I remember thinking, “I want to be a part of that one day.” 

I have always had a passion to bridge health and education inequalities, and every decision I have made since watching that scene is directly related to achieving this.

I studied Medicine at Imperial College London and chose to specialise in General Practice for its excellent breadth of knowledge and prioritisation of communication skills – which I personally believe are the most valuable assets a person can have.

I completed a bachelor’s degree in Management and master’s in Medical Education early on in my career, to gain experience in influencing change at higher levels in areas of deprivation and inequality.

I am a Training Programme Director for GPs-in-training, many of whom are international medical graduates and have been identified as ‘learners in difficulty’. Supporting doctors who are struggling in the workplace and experiencing repeated exam failure introduced me to the concept of neurodiversity and its impact on individuals, but also on society, as we live in a world which still struggles to accommodate for different learning styles. I am passionate about our communities being inclusive of everyone and am a fierce advocate for ‘safe’ learning environments, accessible to all.

As I began the journey of bringing up young children of my own, I was keen to instil an understanding of social justice, equity, service, and gratitude. With that came taking on the voluntary position of Clinic Lead for the charity A World Without Barriers. For the last seven years, I have led an international multidisciplinary healthcare team and co-ordinated  medical clinics for orphans twice a year in areas of Iraq devastated by conflict. Building excellent relationships with local universities provides opportunities for mentorship of Iraqi medical students, supporting them to reach their career aspirations, which would otherwise be challenging to access.

My passion for promoting General Practice as a career choice and working for institutions that actively seek out and recruit learners from underrepresented backgrounds, attracted me to continue my educational leadership journey at QMUL.

Q.2 How has your personal identity(ies) intersected with your work and role at Queen Mary?

Working in Year 3 of the medical school has enabled me to reflect on leadership styles and my own development in the leadership arena. I have learned the importance of using the power that comes with being in a senior position compassionately, to motivate and empower others.

My interest in neurodiversity and inclusion led to my completing a postgraduate certificate to become a ‘Neurodiversity and Inclusivity Trainer’.  I feel proud and privileged to advocate for medical students, tutors, faculty, and professional services at QMUL so that we evolve as a community that embraces different learning styles. I firmly believe that everyone has a unique skill set and by promoting a culture of listening, being kind (to ourselves, and each other) and supportive goal setting, people will have the confidence and the platform they need to ‘break the glass ceiling’.

At QMUL I lead on the Erasmus+ project for the creation of a Primary Healthcare Diploma for Jordanian GPs. This involves creating and delivering workshops to upskill Jordanian doctors who have been unable to secure a speciality training pathway. Alongside evidence-based medicine, I have introduced new concepts around reflective practice and prioritisation of wellbeing as a means to reaching new heights of success through happiness and authenticity. This has changed the way an entire cohort of doctors are practicing medicine in Jordan, and I hope with the methods of dissemination that we have incorporated in the programme, this will be shared in their respective communities.

Working at QMUL gives me the privilege of working with people that enable me to create and innovate in a way that I never thought possible. And in return, I have the opportunity to influence educators that I respect and learn from every day, which is such an honour and reinforces the benefits of compassionate leadership.

Q.3 What does Equality, Diversity and Inclusion mean to you and how important is Queen Mary's EDI work to you as a staff member and your sense of belonging at Queen Mary?

EDI is at the very core of everything I participate in - every meeting, every lecture, every encounter. Every opportunity should be taken to make someone feel welcome and give them the gift of being able to engage with an experience.

QMUL EDI work is crucial for everyone everywhere. The culture that we create in our QM family becomes our identity and we take our identity with us wherever we go and whatever we do.

QMUL’s strategy 2030 reinforces the importance of striving for an inclusive environment to promote flourishing. It inspires through encouraging staff and students to ‘engage locally, nationally, and internationally to create a better world’. It is this vision that makes me proud to work for QMUL and inspired me to create an online learning platform to address global educational inequalities for learners in difficulty who are unable to engage with normal medical school teaching methods. This could be owing to conflict, natural disasters, or simply an individual struggling to learn in the ‘usual’ manner.

The MSID (Medical Schools in Difficulty) platform is an inclusive and accessible platform which has short videos of all 200+ patient presentations from the UKMLA content map. It has been accessed by medical schools and medical students in difficulty in Ukraine, Sudan, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq in the 1 month since it was launched and is freely available to access at   

QMUL’s EDI work is essential to creating a feeling of belonging. A joint advocacy for ‘cherishing cultural diversity’ and ‘dedication to public good’ is what made me feel comfortable and safe enough to build what has become a transformational learning platform that is bridging the educational inequality gap across the globe.

Q.4 What one piece of advice or information would be you give to others in the Queen Mary community to help them foster an inclusive environment and / or be an effective ally?

Be compassionate and non-judgmental.

A lot of the time people struggle and don’t move forward in their careers because they don’t trust their own abilities. By striving to adopt a culture where people feel safe and supported to take a step forward, make a mistake, ask a question, or try something new, you give someone the gift of confidence. And with confidence comes power. 



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