Until her final year of med school, Neetu Roy was determined to build a career as a practicing doctor in the UK. Only to suddenly make a career change and take the leap into technology.
Here she explains why…
“It had taken me five years to complete my medical degree. During that time, I had the privilege of working with patients and gaining a glimpse of the whole life cycle – from assisting with birth deliveries to the humbling experience of talking to patients in their terminal stages.
I had the chance to work with doctors, nurses and occupational therapists who were dedicated to their profession. The NHS is an institution I am incredibly proud of. Nonetheless, with the ever-growing demand for services, working as a healthcare professional in the NHS is not easy.
During my training, I shadowed doctors who had worked endless hours without a sufficient break. They gave up their nights, weekends and sacrificed countless family events to provide care. The burnout was evident. After five years of medical school, I asked myself whether this is what I wanted to do for the next five years. The truth hit me with gut-wrenching clarity. No, I did not.
Prior to this point, the idea was always to work as a doctor but the lure of one particular trend in healthcare was starting to prove irresistible – technology. I started to read how artificial intelligence could be used to assist diagnosis of brain tumours and detect diabetic retinopathy.
Driven by curiosity, I browsed through countless articles and videos to learn more. I began thinking about my experience working in health and all the ways in which machine learning could make processes more efficient. I also started to consider the barriers that exist when trying to implement new technology solutions and wanted to understand how these could be overcome.
But I knew transitioning from medicine to technology as a newly qualified doctor wasn’t the most traditional path, so there wasn’t a specific precedent to follow. I had no background in technology but what I did have was strong clinical knowledge and the transferable
skills I had developed from working in the fast-paced, dynamic environment of the NHS. I thought that one of the best ways to get to grips with ML would be to gain hands-on experience. However, at this stage, I had no connections to anybody who worked in this field.
Of all the videos I watched to learn about AI, one stood out. A TEDx talk delivered by Rebecca Pope, Director of Data Science and Engineering at KPMG UK, called ‘How can AI help our NHS and should we be concerned?’ It gave a brilliant overview about AI, its potential to benefit patients and the ethical and legal implications which need to be addressed.
I was really inspired by Rebecca’s people-centric approach and reached out to her via LinkedIn. She kindly replied and after further discussions, arranged for me to complete a two-week internship with the data science team at KPMG via their ground-breaking initiative called ‘IT’s Her Future’. It’s an award-winning programme, empowering and encouraging more women into technology careers, helping and supporting their ongoing development and progression in the industry. It’s a brilliant initiative that is actively trying to tackle gender diversity in the tech sector.
Obviously, I’m aware of the fact that women are still under-represented in the tech sector, particularly in the more senior positions. Having a better gender balance in technology is essential. Because if we’re going to create digital tools for a diverse population then it’s important to have a diverse team to address the variety of user needs, making sure that we don’t propagate any inherent bias.
For me, the scheme also provided an amazing opportunity to understand more about machine learning, how it could be used in the NHS and also a great opportunity to build my network. From there, I applied for KPMG’s technology graduate scheme, where I’m currently working as a technology solutions consultant.
Having now spent time in both medicine and technology, it’s clear that both fields are equally people-centric. Medicine ensures a healthcare plan that is personalized
for specific patient needs while technology creates applications taking users’ demands into consideration.
But the biggest contrast I’ve noticed between the two fields is the rate at which innovation is implemented on a large-scale. In medicine, prior to recommending a treatment modality, there has to be significant testing and trial stages to ensure validity and accuracy, which I think is crucial to ensure patient safety. In technology, basic apps can be developed within days for users to trial. Every few months, apps can be updated and previous versions become obsolete, so the rate of change is considerably high. But it’s great that the NHS are working with developers to deploy a revised selection of apps which may be beneficial for patients to use, whilst ensuring that these apps adhere to important standards.
I’ve noticed that there are increasingly more medical professionals becoming interested in technology. That’s evident from the boom in the number of healthcare tech start- ups just in the past year or so. There are also an increasing number of medical societies focusing on the digital innovation in healthcare so I really believe that medical education should reflect the changing healthcare environment. It would be incredible if coding could be an optional part of the medical curriculum. To be honest, it would be even better if coding were a part of our primary/high-school curriculum.
Obviously, making the transition from medicine to tech is a very personal decision, depending on the individual’s goals. For me, I was looking for a complete career change, at least for the next couple of years, which is why I decided to immerse myself in the tech industry. However, I do believe that there are brilliant options to learn about tech whilst still practicing as a doctor. There are an increasing number of programmes available through the NHS which allow you to pursue this interest. What’s even better is that the best ideas for innovation will come from the frontline given that you’re the professional working directly with the patients and so are better placed to really understand their needs.
For anyone looking to break into the tech industry, I’d recommend two things. First and foremost, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for an opportunity. Rejection is definitely part and parcel of the process but it’s important to learn from each experience to know how to better present a case for yourself the next time around.
Secondly, continue to learn and update your skills. There are so many platforms out there, making it easier to get to grips with a programming language. Or you could even attend hackathons or Meetup groups so you can develop your experience and expand your network.
I’ve made the transition to tech but I’d never discount going back to practicing medicine again in the future. Healthcare is an area I’ve always been passionate about and a huge part of me does miss working with patients and the sense of achievement you feel knowing that the work you do can genuinely impact a person’s health and quality of life. I think it’s a privilege to be able to work as a doctor, so never say never.
But at the moment, my priority is to advance my technical ability. I think there’s going to be a further intersection in the fields of healthcare and technology. So my plan is to develop my technical, consulting and change management skills in the next few years to be able to practice as a well-rounded digital health consultant.”