How Volunteer to Career has supported Raahat to pursue a career in ophthalmology

11th August 2023

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Raahat Shah has always been interested in pursuing a career in medicine, but it was the Helpforce Volunteer to Career programme at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, funded by NHS England, that confirmed his interest in ophthalmology.

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From interest in medicine to a future career in ophthalmology

Raahat Shah is twenty-one years old, smart, capable, and interested in lots of things. A self-described ‘student, but technically-not as I’m between degrees’, his self-deprecating humour is instantly endearing. It was Raahat’s grandfather that inspired him to volunteer and taking part in the Helpforce Volunteer to Career programme at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has motivated him to pursue a career in ophthalmology.

“My Grandad has ARMD (Age-related macular degeneration which is an eye disease that can blur and distort your central vision) and that was what convinced me to volunteer with Moorfields Eye Hospital. As someone who wanted to do medicine, I began looking into the causes and symptoms of my grandad’s condition in 2021. I talked to him about what I learned including how you get a blank spot at the centre of your vision and he said ‘Yep that’s pretty much what it’s like.’ It hurts that he hasn’t been able to see my face for so long. I took him to his next appointment which I’d never done before and I saw the volunteers in big green jackets working alongside the staff and thought I should get involved.”

Raahat has a 1st Class Honours Degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from Queen Mary University and in September 2023 will begin his accelerated graduate medical training at Southampton University with a plan to specialise in ophthalmology. He began volunteering at Moorfields City Road Hospital during the Covid pandemic in 2021. Raahat began his volunteering by talking with new patients, giving them directions, arranging for wheelchair availability and helping with general queries. What he didn’t know was that the extra pressure of Covid regulations meant the hospital was busier than usual.

“I think it was easier for me starting during a busy time in the hospital. As a volunteer I didn’t expect to feel super-involved with hospital staff, but during Covid I saw how closely staff and volunteers worked together on prevention measures to make everyone safe and protected. It was really inspiring. Any difficulty was balanced by the sense of being helpful.”

Volunteer to a future career in ophthalmology

Natalia Tomashpolskaya is the Business and Volunteer Service Manager at Friends of Moorfields, a charity that supports patients and staff at Moorfields Eye Hospital. It was Natalia who introduced the Helpforce Volunteer to Career (VtC) programme to Raahat. Always one to seize an opportunity to help and learn, Raahat jumped in feet first, asking if he could volunteer in one of the surgical departments.

“There were fast track channels for volunteers to get involved with things in the hospital, but before VtC it was more ‘Well, we’ll see what we can do’ as volunteer leads would have to contact different departments to gain approvals. The VtC programme made it easier for Natalia to do more to support volunteers in areas of the hospital they were interested in learning more about. I ended up shadowing an ophthalmologist who was really enthusiastic about explaining glaucoma. I got to see a lot of different procedures and conditions including an eye deflation and a reservoir being inserted into another eye. They also showed me how to learn to read the medical scans on display screens. I was able to do this whilst volunteering and would hold a patient’s hand and talk to them if they were nervous when in theatre.”

Underneath this scientific curiosity there is another reason that beats strongly alongside Raahat’s enthusiasm. He explained: “I don’t think many people want to be doctors for the pay. They do it because of a personal investment and interest in fixing things and helping people.

“I had a preconceived idea of emotionless surgeons and a big fear of being apathetic in the job when I get that far. I worried that maybe my humanity might be stripped away, but the very first observation I did proved me wrong. The patient was really scared so the consultant and the nurses didn’t even pick up their instruments. Instead, they just spoke with this lady to help calm her down, gently explaining what was going to happen and that there was nothing to be frightened about. I saw real compassion from the consultant that day and thought, ‘if they can manage to keep their compassion, then I can too.’”

Additional skills

The biggest takeaway for Raahat was all the extra skills he feels he has learned or enhanced during his time as a volunteer. Dealing with lots of patients on a regular basis meant that good communication and empathy for different people was critical.

“Communication and teamwork are so important no matter what you end up doing in life. I was watching the doctors and nurses and I got to see what the dynamic was like. It really affirmed that this is the right career path for me. They are so compassionate and always try to have empathy for every patient they see and for each other. They worked as a team with no one feeling like they were left out. Covid was a busy time, and the hospital had fewer volunteers than was ideal, but it also helped strengthen the case for the volunteer service and brought everyone closer to work better as a team.”

What next?

Raahat plans on using his volunteer experience to pursue his career goals, but also plans on volunteering in the long term.

“Volunteering with patients is rewarding, but a big reason for that for me was that the staff at Moorfields are just so nice. I will be volunteering when I can because I enjoy it. I get to help staff and patients, but also, I get to learn things that will help me in the future. I can’t commend Natalia and her team enough. They really helped me get to where I am currently in life.”

Learn more about the Volunteer to Career programme here.

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