Dr Riaz Agha
Interview with David King, Leeds Medical Student, Published in the Student BMJ, download it here
15 minute interview
The Ultimate Junior Doctor
Riaz Agha is 26 years old and graduated from medical school in August 2005. Like most his peers he is working as a foundation year one house officer. Unlike most students from the class of 2005, however, he has already written more than 10 scientific papers and a book, won more than 20 prizes, founded an international peer reviewed journal, and been included in the 2006 edition of Marquis’s Who’s Who in the World. David King finds out more
Why did you decide to study medicine?
Medicine was the only career that combined all the subjects I loved, and I also wanted a job where I would be working with people. I very nearly didn’t get into medical school, however. The first time I applied I didn’t even get an interview let alone any offers. I therefore took a gap year and worked at Harrods for a year as a sales associate. Looking back, this was one of the best things that could have happened to me. I learnt far more about communicating with people during my time at Harrods than from any communication skills session at university. Fortunately, I managed to secure four A grades at A level, and the second time I applied to medical school I received an unconditional offer from Guy’s, King’s, and St Thomas’ School of Medicine. I took up my place there in 1999 and haven’t looked back since.
Did you try and distinguish yourself from other students as soon as you arrived at medical school?
Most students only start thinking about applying for jobs after they qualify. I adopted a different approach and began building my CV from the moment I first entered medical school, based on my own interests. I became president of the surgical society and the chess society, and was vice president of the salsa society. I intercalated in anatomy between the second and third year, achieving a first class honours degree. Through sheer perseverance I also managed to get my name on a number of publications and win some prizes.
While in your fourth year of medical school, you launched the International Journal of Surgery. Why did you decide to set up a journal and how was it achieved?
I wanted to start something long term at medical school. Looking at the journals that were currently available I felt that many were too specialised, very dry, slow in processing manuscripts, and were failing in their duty to place themselves at the centre of debate. I also saw how some journals seemed to be dominated by content from the
. I wanted to build a truly global multidisciplinary journal. I envisaged a new journal, which would publish research on surgery from all over the world, but setting up the journal was far from easy. I had a few contacts from my time as president of the surgical society and they agreed to get involved. I then set about emailing people and managed to get some content for the journal. I set up a website to get subscriptions, and amazingly 200 people subscribed. Together with my own savings and income from advertising, this gave me enough money to publish and distribute the first three issues, which I did on my own.
What is the current status of the journal?
The journal has gone from strength to strength. The global market leader in journal publishing, Elsevier, became interested, and in October 2004exactly one year after the journal had been launchedI signed a deal with them to become my publishing partners. We now have a circulation of 4000, and it is growing all the time. When I first launched the journal I was ridiculed, and a professor of surgery told me I would never get anyone to submit original research. That same professor has now joined my editorial board and we are receiving original research from all over the world. Only recently one of our papers was featured in a front page article in the Wall Street Journal (written by a 2005 Pulitzer Prize winning journalist) and was also covered by many other news agencies, such as ABC News, Reuters, Forbes, and Fox News. This massively increased the profile of the journal. I still retain an active role in the running of the journal, as its managing and executive editor, and ultimately it is my ambition to see it become the best general surgical journal in the world.
You recently published a book, Making Sense of Your Medical Career: Your Strategic Guide to Success. Where did you get the idea for the book and what are you hoping it will achieve?
In order to work in the most competitive specialties, successful applicants are expected to have fulfilled certain criteria. Most medical students receive little or no careers advice at medical school, however, and do not have a clue what is required. Some information is available, but it is scattered across several sources, such as the studentBMJ and Career Focus in BMJ Careers, and other careers publications. I wanted to collect all this advice into one book, together with the knowledge and experience I accumulated at medical school. Put simply, this book tells you everything you need to know to become successful in medicine. It advises you on whether to do an intercalated degree, where to go for your elective, how to handle interviews, how to write a scientific paper, and even how to publish a book. Within these pages is all you need to successfully apply for your dream job.
Interview with Ally Xiang, Student Medical Education Committee (SMEC), King's College London
- download the interview published in the SMEC Insight Bulletin Winter 2005/6
- download the interview published in the GKT Gazette January 2006
Let me introduce you to Dr Riaz Agha, PRHO, editor and entrepreneur, from the exterior, he may seem to be merely another medical student, who successfully graduated last summer from GKT (with distinctions in Medical Sciences and Special Studies); however, Riaz’s resume  may far surpass all your achievements combined, for he was not idle with his time! Apart from completing his degree, Riaz has published over 15 articles in scientific journals, won 21 prizes and established the ‘International Journal of Surgery’ . He is now the Managing and Executive Editor of this influential journal, which is consulted by surgeons worldwide and whose articles were recently covered by the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fox News, USA Today, Boston Globe, ABC News, Voice of America and Reuters amongst others.
At the start of November, I had the pleasure of meeting Riaz after his long shift in Oncology at Guy’s Hospital. We met in Starbucks, Riaz was dressed smartly and looked excited about talking to me, he described his busy job as a PRHO (new F1 recruit), working constantly from 0830 to around 1800. It is a change for him as dealing with cancer patients differs from his previous placement on General Medicine.
I previously met Riaz a year ago, at an event centred on incorporating science ideas into business ventures. From the outset, Riaz was generous with his advice and experience of medical school. He came across as a determined, ambitious young man, who is also modest about his achievements. Growing up in the east end of London and going to a local comprehensive, at age 16 he won a scholarship to the private Chigwell School. Riaz was not successful in his first application to medical school but admits, it was the best thing that has happened to him. He, instead, spent his year out at Harrods working full-time selling toys. He realised there; “being successful in life is all about selling, people who are successful, are often good communicators, who are able to put across their ideas and move people across to their position (and therefore make a sale) or at the very least move them to a point within their sphere of influence where they can be leveraged to help them achieve their goals. If you study politicians this is their business and you can learn a lot from them. Similarly a painting bought for £60,000 can be sold 2 years later for £600,000 the perception has become real even though it’s the same painting or set of brush strokes.”
Riaz did his elective at Harvard and this made him realise how closely linked business and healthcare were. He understood how his medical degree consisted of understanding new concepts all the time and learning a lot of knowledge by rote, training his mind in a very vigorous way. As he progressed through medical school, Riaz felt increasingly entrepreneurial, he found that he could leverage his knowledge and contacts to launch the International Journal of Surgery, and become the first student ever to launch a global journal! ”The creative freedom that comes with being an entrepreneur is truly liberating. To be able to work ideas up from scratch and create something meaningful where before there was nothing. When you pull the rabbit out of the hat, people always ask how you did it, but its all to do with your mindset. Once you launch something, you need to focus on product development and passionately creating something truly great. For instance, in 2005, we not only published high quality papers and got a lot of press coverage but we also recruited top people like Professor Thomas E. Starzl (the most cited man in clinical medical medicine and father of transplantation) and Lord Robert Winston (Past-President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and a regular presenter on BBC science programs).
Students often ask him how he has achieved so much. According to him, students need to be “feverishly passionate” about medicine and to change their original way of thinking by setting goals and making plans. Riaz’s advice has been captured in his book “Making sense of your medical career”, which describes in a succinct and rather personal approach, the ways of becoming successful in medicine (its also quite popular selling 6000 copies in the first 9 months!). The first chapter “Career building starts in the mind” importantly details the need to develop yourself before embarking on your career. It is a good practical career guide, and draws upon Riaz’s knowledge of intercalated BSc’s, electives, publishing a book, job applications and writing the winning CV! This book is definitely worth a look at, not only to get Riaz’s perspective but also to learn new ways of approaching medicine.
What do peers think of his success? Those who are younger than Riaz are happy for him as they are able to learn from what he has achieved. He says that students need to know their goals and also realise that there are other career options than the standard medical specialities, for example, medical publishing or healthcare technology. He comments that “you have to be feverishly passionate and enjoy working hard but at times you may need to be defensive as well. Some people may get irritated by your success and you need stay on guard against certain people. If you have solid reasons for doing what you are doing, then no one can touch you. In time you will develop your own inner circle and will find out one way or another who your true friends are.”
And what of his future? After F1, Riaz hopes to take a well-earned year out to develop some of his ideas full time. “I want to spend more time developing the International Journal of Surgery and other publishing, business and healthcare technology ventures. I want to leave my options open and see what I am feverishly passionate about.”
It would do all students good to take a leaf out of Riaz’s book (literally and metaphorically). His creativity, determination and positive attitude will hopefully be able to knock a lot of apathetic students out of their spoon-fed med school monotony. Although we may know this, sometimes it takes someone like Riaz to tell you bluntly that “your future is what you make of it, make sure you grab every opportunity given to you, do not be passive, use your mind and discover what you really enjoy”. I am certain Riaz will be a continued success which ever path he chooses.
- Resume at http://www.yourmedicalcareer.com/
- Subscribe to the journal at www.int-journal-surgery.com
- Agha R. Making sense of your medical career. Your strategic guide to success. ISBN 0340887370