Could you tell us a bit about your current research? What made you want to go into this field?
Currently I am a student on the PhD programme with the School of Economics and Finance at Queen Mary University of London. I’m working on workplace choice location of primary care doctors in the UK. The GP to patient ratio is quite unbalanced across different localities in the UK so I’m constructing an economic model to explain why some doctors do not want to enter certain markets and how the NHS can encourage doctors to move to where there is a shortage, by changing the contractual framework of general practitioners.
I was very interested to work on primary care in the UK because the system that we have in the NHS is very efficient and cost-effective because the primary carers are the gatekeepers of the whole system. So because of that the UK spends 30% less on the whole healthcare system than for example a country like Germany which does not have this gatekeeping structure by the primary care physicians. The NHS is also looking to reduce its costs because now they have lots of problems with their budget etc. I think one point they can target is to make primary care more efficient to better control the flow of patients from primary care to secondary care. I came to this research question because I was interested in inequality in access to healthcare and I noticed this in the data. So I thought that maybe people in more deprived areas have less access to primary care not because there are not enough practices in those localities, but because there are fewer doctors. In more deprived areas the practices are very small and there are fewer doctors per capita than other localities.
Previously I was on the Masters Research programme in the School of Economics and Finance. During my MRes I worked on another topic of Health Economics, at the intersection with Development Economics. It wasn’t directly related to this one, but it was about doctors’ incentives to provide certain types of treatment. I was looking at the doctors’ decisions in choosing between caesarean section and vaginal delivery in Iran. The C-section rate in Iran is very high and the government started a reform about six years ago to reduce the rate and one of the targets of the programme was altering the physicians’ incentives. Doctors usually earn more when they perform caesareans so they prefer that and so the C-section rate in almost all countries is rising, especially where they have a private healthcare system. So doctors’ incentives were always interesting for me, how they decide between different procedures, or locations to work etc. and I think that’s directly related to economic incentives of workers in general.
Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary?
Queen Mary has a very good Economics faculty, especially for Applied Microeconomics. I was very interested in working with real microdata. I think Queen Mary is a very good choice for people who want to work on applied sciences.
The School is launching a new MSc in Mental Health Economics, what do you think makes this programme so interesting?
I think there are fewer programmes on Health Economics based in Economics departments – most of the research is done in Public Health schools, but I think a collaboration between a Public Health school and an Economics department is going to be an interesting programme for students at Masters level.
What were you studying prior to your MRes?
For my Bachelors, I studied Civil Engineering in Iran, and a Masters in Economics in Iran and then I moved to London.
I was always interested in social sciences but I entered an Engineering programme because I thought maybe that would provide more opportunity to study basic maths concepts. When I finished my undergraduate studies, I decided to follow my interest in social sciences. Especially because in the university I was at in Iran had a very good Economics department.
What was the biggest difference between living and studying in the UK compared with Iran?
In general there were lots of surprises, but the biggest difference was the length of the terms. Here in the UK, term time is just ten weeks, and the exams were just one week after the classes. In Iran term time was fourteen weeks and then we had three weeks to prepare and then four weeks of exams, with two or three days between exams. Here I had all my exams in one week, sometimes one exam in the morning, one in the afternoon, and another the day after - they are very condensed!
What advice would you give a current student or recent graduate considering whether to undertake postgraduate study?
I definitely recommend taking a postgraduate course especially because the labour market is quite competitive right now. By specialising yourself in one area through a Masters programme you can distinguish yourself from other people who you are competing with. Also, being involved in the process of doing your own research can help you to have better job opportunities in the future.
What are your own plans for the future?
I want to be in academia, so maybe a faculty position or a post doctoral research programme.
What has been your best experience at Queen Mary so far?
We have a PhD workshop in the school where people from all over Europe submit their research papers and PhD students are in the selection committee. So I had the opportunity to be part of that, reading the papers and selecting the best ones. The writers of those come to Queen Mary and there is an award for the best paper. I think that was the most interesting experience because we had the opportunity to get in touch with other PhD students in other universities in Europe. The seminars and presentations were also a lot of fun.