GP, CEO and change maker
When you ask Abdullah if he’s always wanted to be a doctor, he says he knew from about the age of 13 or 14. He explains, "My uncle was a doctor in Baghdad, Iraq. My parents always told me and my siblings how his community relied on him. Two of my sisters are doctors too, and the other is a dentist. My dad was actually an engineer and my mum an accountant but working in medicine seemed to suit our family."
Abdullah believes that everybody should have the right to access healthcare and that the current barriers in the system nationally, as well as internationally, need disrupting. He promotes patient choice, empowerment and accessibility.
I remember the first time I took the history of a patient in Charing Cross hospital, Hammersmith. I presented this to the consultant who then decided to go ahead with my treatment plan. This was a really fulfilling moment for me – it was times like these when I realised what it really meant to be a doctor.
Qualifying as a GP
Abdullah tells people his journey to becoming a GP was a long one. In his mind, he was destined to become a surgeon specialising in ENT (ears, nose and throat). He passed his surgical exams and moved to London to start his training. But he realised he couldn’t juggle everything. He was spending all hours in the hospital – even when he wasn’t on call.
He started doing locum work as an A&E doctor. But still, he knew this wasn’t the career path for him. For him, working in medicine wasn't about doing some shifts and going home. That’s when he decided to start his journey to becoming a GP, and he moved up to Leeds with his wife to complete his training. By February 2019, he was qualified and ready to begin his career.
Now Abdullah locums as a GP at two practices. But this isn’t the only thing that keeps him busy. He dedicates the rest of his time to growing his business, Medicalchain.
Like his journey to becoming a GP, Medicalchain got off to a slow start when he was training at Leeds General Infirmary. Abdullah and his colleagues had to produce discharge summaries for patients’ GPs. But he knew these were inconsistent. Patients were having complex heart attacks and junior doctors would only write four lines. In other cases, someone might have experienced acid reflux and the GP would receive pages and pages describing their patient’s time in hospital.
He spoke to the hospital department about creating a website template to generate letters for the GPs. With very limited tech knowledge, he worked with a family member to build it. Within minutes, you could use the template to create an accurate narrative. And this is where the Medicalchain story begins.
The biggest problem for patients is they don’t have access to their medical records. The way we practice medicine is so ancient. It’s not fit for purpose anymore. My job is to work in partnership with patients. Medicalchain aims to empower them and allow them to take their information from appointment to appointment.
Medicalchain raised $24 million in February 2018, and has already received many awards and contributed to scientific literature in the field of distributed ledger technologies and their application to healthcare.
The impact of a global pandemic
When COVID-19 came along, Abdullah and his team realised that many patients around the world were struggling to reach medical professionals. He explains, "In the UK, we have different systems in place. But that’s not the case globally. We have friends in Nigeria who were saying all the medical centres were closed. When we asked them how they were accessing medical advice, they said they couldn’t." So they built MyClinic.
MyClinic is a telemedicine system that would work alongside a patient’s 'health passport'. In time, with MyClinic, patients can talk to a doctor in a virtual space and share their medical record live.
We created MyClinic in three weeks. The platform has been used in over 78 countries since its launch. Our biggest users are actually dentists and social workers – this wasn’t something we anticipated.
MyClinic is at the point where a basic version will always be free. Abdullah says, "Looking to the future, we see the health passport and MyClinic coming back together – especially when there is a vaccine for COVID. It’s really important researchers have access to medical records, with patients’ consent. Patients will have a journal where they can document any side effects."
Pressure is a privilege
In ten years’ time, Abdullah sees himself still in Leeds working as a GP. As for Medicalchain, he compares it to WordPress. He explains, "Their website says over one third of the internet was built using WordPress. I want all medical professionals to open up Medicalchain as the starting point for all consultations. And if it could be used for a third of all appointments in the world that would be incredible."
Abdullah says, "I’ve always been a troublemaker. I think that’s what it comes down to. I don’t accept poor standards because it’s the right thing to do. I always put myself in a position to have a voice – I’ve done that ever since medical school when I was a student representative. Now I’m chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners Yorkshire Faculty. If I hear someone say, ‘it’s the way we’ve always done it’, I know there’s a problem."
Work can be fun. I’ve been able to travel the world and give presentations. I’ve also won an award from The Financial Times. To students today, don’t accept things as they are. Don’t be complicit.
Advice to his younger self
Abdullah explains that he watched a show on Netflix called The Playbook. A particular quote resonated with him, "One of the coaches said, ‘pressure is a privilege’. When you feel like you have so much on your plate, you need to reflect and turn it into a positive. I would tell my younger self ‘you need to challenge yourself more’".
He regularly gives talks to budding entrepreneurs and mentors a few select students and junior doctors, as well as giving speeches on blockchain and running career advice sessions. He’s spoken in New York, Tokyo, South Korea, and more. Abdullah recognises that it was only with the help of others, who shared their time and advice with him was he able to achieve what he has done today. He continues with this principle and practices it by committing time on a weekly basis to advising and guiding those coming after him.
Memories of Imperial
Reflecting on his time at Imperial, he says, "Imperial is a very special place to me. We had great role models who balanced their work well and were very forward-thinking. But it wasn’t just the academics, it was the other students too. I was part of the medical football team, as well as secretary of the drama society and Iraqi society. I realised if I was organised enough I could fit everything in."
When you look at Imperial’s history and see Sir Alexander Fleming and current academics like Professor Lord Darzi, you realise you’re connected to some very special people. You haven’t just gone to medical school, but you’ve gone to one of the best universities in the world.
A proud moment
He remembers graduation fondly. He explains, "Graduation in the Royal Albert Hall was a big day. For me, it was 5% for us and 95% for our families. It wasn’t just about the six years of university, but every day since primary school had led up to this achievement. It was a reflection of my parents’ hard work and commitment to getting me to this point too."
Abdullah has already achieved so much since graduating from Imperial. He says, "Winning this award is probably my proudest moment. I don’t think my friends and family will realise just how important it is to me. I struggled at university. I wasn’t the brightest. I failed exams… I failed a lot of exams".
Getting this award makes me feel like I did deserve to graduate from Imperial. It makes me feel like I represent the university well and continue to be an ambassador. I feel fulfilled knowing I used my time well at Imperial and it helped me get to where I am today.