Dr Reza Jarral
Tackling inequity is a top priority for Dr Reza Jarral, whether he’s treating vulnerable patients as a GP, or working on the design of an AI-powered approach to predict infectious diseases in refugees. Since graduating in 2010, he’s accumulated a range of prestigious awards, as well as being given a pounamu, a native green stone which is a sign of acceptance from the indigenous people of the Māori community.
A man of many talents
Winner of the Princess Diana Memorial Award and the Acumen Generosity Award. Recipient of a competitive grant by The Rockefeller Foundation, New York. A member of the World Health Organisation ‘AI for Health’ Focus Group. These are just a few of his accolades. It’s difficult to capture everything Reza has achieved since leaving Imperial.
As well as working as a GP, Reza has focused his efforts on democratising wellbeing using technology, advocating for a more inclusive society, and collaborating with others to promote the ethical use of artificial intelligence. Reza explains, "My catalyst for self-growth and emerging leadership was an increasing sense of urgency, to become an advocate for those in society often left without a seat at the table."
The start of his journey
It wasn’t always Reza’s plan to become a doctor. He had a passion for fine art and dreamed of creating video games. But after thinking about his future and talking to his family, he realised medicine was the right fit for him. However, he’s kept his art alive on the side and even created artwork for hospitals. "There’s something truly cathartic about artistic expression, but the arts also inform my exploration of technology through the lens of ethics and society," he shares.
Training in general practice, doctors tend to complete training earlier than other areas of medicine. "This left me with the freedom to do whatever I wanted," he says. "I worked at inner city practices in London, and I was interested in technology so joined an AI company called Ada. This really piqued my interest in how scalable tech can impact lives."
A leader in the ethical use of AI in health
When Reza moved to New Zealand with his girlfriend, now wife, he worked as a GP with patients from vulnerable groups and diverse backgrounds. This gave him an insight as to how advances in tech might leave these groups behind, and he became determined to represent them.
More recently, Reza completed a masters at Tech Future Labs, Auckland, "They’re fantastic people. They encouraged me to explore my capabilities and taught me how to deliver impact using tech."
He describes how he gave himself permission to be curious: "I leaned into discomfort and fear in a way that I couldn’t have done without returning to education. Professionals supposedly aren’t meant to fail, but as a student that’s precisely what you need to do, to learn and move forward."
Working on global projects
Reza is interested in how scalable tech can impact society. He explains, "As a doctor, I listen to people’s stories, I hear them cry, hold their hands when they lose loved ones. I want to use the privileges I experience for the greater good, namely mitigating for unintended harms when it comes to disruptive technology and innovation."
For his research, Reza has interviewed experts around the world to understand the drivers behind creating ethical tech. He says, "A wealth of research describes the incentives for innovation – predominantly reflecting financial metrics. But this doesn’t always align with wellbeing. Part of this is looking at how we measure corporate responsibility and wider factors to consider."
Reza is working on an ongoing project with the World Health Organisation investigating how we can measure the safety of AI when diagnosing conditions. "What has been amazing is the collaboration I’ve witnessed across disparate specialities, backgrounds and even competing organisations. There’s sometimes a lot of fear surrounding the future, but with work like this, there is also a tremendous amount of hope."
Through the work of Impact Collective and their investment fund, Reza has also been able to support small startups around the world, "They're using innovative ideas to improve our world, via the UN SDGs and beyond. Think sustainable energy solutions, lab grown food, AI powered drug discovery, microeconomic programmes for factory workers, and more."
Accepted by the Māori community
His efforts to support people hasn’t gone unnoticed within the different communities he works with. In 2017, after working with high-needs populations in Auckland, he was awarded a pounamu. This is a token of great significance to Māori people, carved from native greenstone that signifies acceptance into their community.
Ask yourself what the world needs
When asked what one of his proudest moments is, Reza tells people, "Joining the Edmund Hillary Fellowship has been a real highlight for me. It’s a global community of entrepreneurs, social advocates, investors and thought leaders. I’ve long suffered with imposter syndrome but being acknowledged at this level gave me the confidence boost I needed."
Reza recognises looking at bios like his might seem daunting. How does he fit everything in? In his own words, "I encourage students reading about people like me not to fall victim to toxic productivity clichés - that you need to ‘hustle’ 24/7 and not sleep. Self-care is paramount. Then you can start slotting in different things. I sleep well, I’ve learnt to say no, and I forgive myself. Supportive friends and family are important too."
The Japanese concept of Ikigai is vital to me. Finding the middle ground between what you love, what the world needs, what you’re good at and what you can be paid for. Although you might not always get paid for it at first of course
Looking to the future, Reza says, "I hope to leverage the work that I’ve done so far. I want to put myself in a position where I can influence how innovation is funded, created and deployed, leading at an intersectional level. I see this as a way I can impact society for good. I do plan to still see patients, keeping myself grounded in clinical caregiving. And of course, I would love to continue my creative outlets too."
After experiencing low self-confidence during his studies, Reza wants to tell students, "Be happy with who you are. I really mean that. But push yourself to experience new things at the same time. If you can do both, you’ll go far. I would also say that courage is not innate: it’s one of the most important skills to develop. With this courage you can lean into discomfort and learn to celebrate failure as a learning experiment."
Overcoming his fears
Reza has worked hard to overcome his fear of public speaking. In 2019, he delivered a keynote speech championing human-centred innovation at the international Data4Good conference. He’s has also sat on the executive committee of Toastmasters, a non-profit education organisation, sharing his experiences with nervous speakers to help them become more confident communicators.
Reflecting on my journey as a medical student sometimes paralysed with nervousness, unable to get a word out on the wards, I have been struck by the number of generous and kind people who have given me the confidence to become bolder in recent years.
Reza reveals, "I still find public speaking nerve-wracking. But I’m fuelled by a strong drive to use the platforms available to me to empower those who might find themselves marginalised."
Reza is keen to reach as many people as he can through his work. "I was honoured to be invited as a Techweek 2020 panel member, discussing my research on diversity and inclusion in AI with industry leaders from Google and Microsoft at ‘She#’ - a leading advocacy group for women in STEM," he shares.
Home to the brightest minds and kindest hearts
Reza tells people, "Ultimately, I’m just a clinician, I really enjoy working with people and hearing their stories. I have a passion for exploring the human condition." It was during his placement in A&E at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington he realised the impact he could make. "It’s a level 1 trauma centre," he explains. "Some of the sickest patients in the city go there. This helped form me into the doctor I am today."
At Imperial, you’re surrounded by the brightest minds and the kindest hearts. They see you at your best and your worst. It’s this camaraderie that got me through the tough times. People don’t always talk about the darker periods, but future generations will need to be more open and aware of their mental health.
"Your biggest fear as a doctor is harming a patient. That’s not something a lot of doctors will admit," Reza confesses. "But having a high-quality education from Imperial has helped me deal with the uncertain situations I face. You never know what’s going to come through the door next, working in medicine. Because I was able to be a good doctor first and foremost, I could then focus on leadership, helping others grow and making impact."