Dr Aseem Malhotra
Medical graduate, cardiologist and student guitar hero Dr Aseem Malhotra is now leading the campaign against excess sugar consumption.
Dr Aseem Malhotra
|Year of Graduation||
Your time at the University
I was particularly drawn to Edinburgh ever since my first visit there to watch the 1986 Commonwealth Games as a nine year old boy. It struck me then as it does now as one of the most mystical, breathtakingly beautiful and romantic cities in Europe.
Its reputation in the world of medicine was impeccable and had produced many notable alumni such as Charles Darwin and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - whose Sherlock Holmes character was inspired by one of his professors. In fact, as I often tell the medical students I have taught over the years, Holmes’ line of thinking in solving crimes follows the same principles of making a medical diagnosis:
When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth.
There are so many fond memories of my time as a student. Walking across the Meadows from where I lived in Marchmont in the morning to attend lectures and later work at the Royal Infirmary. Some of the highlights included playing intra-mural football and performing gigs in a rock band with a fellow medical student and best mate Arjun in several pub venues throughout the city - including a two and half hour set in the Golf Tavern in my second year. I still don’t know how I managed to memorise playing over 20 songs on guitar. The highlight had to be when the gathered crowd, made up mostly of our student friends, sang along to our finishing cover of
Hey Jude by the Beatles.
Like many within the profession, I was becoming more aware and concerned about the increasing demand being put on the NHS by obesity and lifestyle related chronic disease. I soon realised that until we tackled the root cause; the obesogenic food environment, the problem would only persist.
Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University
Following graduation I spent another 18 months living in the city working at Wishaw General Hospital, followed by a vascular surgery placement at the old Royal Infirmary. Before moving south of the border, my final six months were spent working, often 100 hour weeks, at Liberton’s care of the elderly hospital whilst simultaneously studying for part 1 of my MRCP exam.
I was determined to pass it first time as I had realised it was essential if I was to ultimately get a training post in cardiology - the most competitive of specialties. I remember whenever I had a spare moment during on calls I would hit the books. I don’t think to this day I’ve ever worked so hard to pass an exam in my life, as it was a competitive exam and the overwhelming majority fail at the first attempt. I swiftly completed my full MRCP examinations during a two year medical rotation at Manchester Royal Infirmary and, after initial specialist registrar posts in St James University Hospital, Leeds and Blackpool Victoria Hospital, headed down south to undertake the remaining bulk of my specialist registrar training in interventional cardiology in London. It was a privilege to work with and be mentored by some of the most gifted cardiologists and cardiac surgeons at the world famous Harefield Hospital, where I spent three years and then two years at the Royal Free in Hampstead.
Like many within the profession, I was becoming more aware and concerned about the increasing demand being put on the NHS by obesity and lifestyle related chronic disease. I soon realised that until we tackled the root cause; the obesogenic food environment, the problem would only persist. Even our hospitals had become a branding opportunity for the junk food industry. Despite gaining much job satisfaction through treating patients and saving lives of those suffering heart attacks, I could foresee that unless we impacted on prevention at a population level the NHS would become unsustainable. Through writing in mainstream media and academic medical journals I started campaigning to highlight these issues including pushing a message that sugar had now become enemy number one in the western diet and that it was time for government regulation through a sugar tax.
I was also concerned that much of what we do in healthcare brings no benefit to the patient. Unnecessary operations and overmedication driven by commercial influence and a lack of transparency within the system starting at the level of medical publication leads to misinformed doctors and misled patients. Most recently I helped coordinate a joint campaign between the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and the British Medical Journal by publishing a paper to act as a blue print for a revolution in healthcare. The co-authors included the chair of the Academy, Professor Dame Sue Bailey and the current chair of the General Medical Council, Professor Terence Stephenson.
I have just completed making a documentary film to be released next summer to cut through the epidemic of misinformation and to reveal the true secrets of longevity. The aim of the film is not just to guide individuals but also doctors and policy makers in efforts to curb the increasing burden of chronic disease globally.
Work hard, strive to be successful, but never neglect your health. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in over 14 years since graduation it’s that lifestyle changes can have a greater impact on your health, happiness and quality of life than any pill will ever have. Always keep an open mind and develop a healthy scepicism about what you read especially when it comes to medical science which is constantly evolving. As one of the fathers of evidence based medicine David Sackett once said,
half of what you’ll learn in medical school will either be shown to be dead wrong or out of date within five years of your graduation; the trouble is nobody can tell you which half-so the most important thing to learn is how to learn on your own.