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As one of only three black female Urologists in the UK, Sarah Itam is using her profile to mentor and inspire young people in Africa and around the world.

After six years of Medical school and almost ten years of surgical training, Sarah Itam has qualified as one of only three black female Urologists in the UK.

From an early age, she showed a keen interest in medicine and went on to study at Imperial College London, where she also gained a distinction in her Surgical Education Masters. She has worked in several top hospitals including Guy’s and St Thomas’ and is currently working in the Urology unit at University College London Hospitals.

Born and raised in South-East London, Sarah knows firsthand the challenges that black families face within the education system. She hopes to inspire other young black women to pursue a career in surgery, and currently mentors several aspiring trainees.

When she's not busy operating, Sarah presents her own web series - Health in HD - an exciting online series of short documentaries and informative videos exploring holistic health and well-being. She has recently finished filming in Tokyo for her latest episode “Why Japan Lives Longer”. Sarah is also a motivational public speaker who enjoys mentoring young people, medical students and trainees. She has been invited to speak throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, Africa and Malaysia to a variety of audiences and demographics. She also regularly speaks on health and well-being topics at community events throughout the UK.

ReConnect Africa spoke to the busy surgeon about her background and aspirations.

ReConnect Africa: Can you tell us about yourself?

Sarah Itam: I was born and raised in South-East London in the United Kingdom. I have a passion for public speaking and health awareness. I am also a keen musician and have been awarded a Diploma from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in Piano Performance.

ReConnect Africa: What did you study and what were your initial intentions for your career?

Sarah Itam: I have wanted to be a doctor from an early age and went on to study Medicine in Imperial College London. At university, I enjoyed both medical and surgical specialties, however it was my exposure to the operating theatre which really captured my attention and lead me down the path of surgery.

Another highlight would be the Surgical Education Masters I took at Imperial College London. It challenged my thinking as a surgeon and gave me the impetus to set up my web channel
ReConnect Africa: What were the key influences in your choice of career?

Sarah Itam: I observed and assisted in as many procedures as I could to help me determine which surgical discipline I wanted to pursue. I found that urology was an extremely varied specialty, treating people of all ages with a wide range of medical and surgical interventions. It requires good communication skills as patients have to discuss very intimate problems and consent to invasive examinations. Operations can vary from endoscopic work to open and robotic surgery, which means no one day is the same. In comparison to other surgical specialties, urology offers a good work-life balance.

ReConnect Africa: What would you say have been the highlights of your career to date?

Sarah Itam: Achieving my certificate in specialist training has definitely been the high point so far. After spending countless years of formal training with regular assessments and exams, it is a truly exhilarating experience to finally be told you’ve now qualified.

Another highlight would be the Surgical Education Masters I took at Imperial College London. It challenged my thinking as a surgeon and gave me the impetus to set up my web channel ‘Health In HD’. As a surgeon you acquire several transferable skills and Health in HD allowed me to amalgamate my passion for presenting and promoting health awareness with digital technology.

ReConnect Africa: Where did you train and what technical skills do you need in order to do what you are doing?

Sarah Itam: When you are training as a surgeon you rotate around different hospitals within your region. The majority of my training has taken place in the London and Mersey areas working in both busy teaching hospitals and quieter district general hospitals. Urology requires a variety of technical skills including good hand-eye coordination, manual dexterity and visuo-spatial awareness. I also have to employ non-technical skills such as teamwork, leadership and situational awareness. As a surgeon, both aspects are inseparable and pivotal for patient safety.

ReConnect Africa: What have been your biggest challenges so far in your career?

Sarah Itam: Taking my exit examinations which were required for completion of training. I had to revise for exams covering the breadth of the urology syllabus whilst also working 12-hour days and busy on-calls in a demanding hospital environment. Thankfully, I passed the exam but I wouldn't fancy taking them again!

ReConnect Africa: How do you think your African heritage has impacted on what you do and how you are perceived??

Sarah Itam: I have been privileged to grow up in a household where educational excellence was highly encouraged and supported. From an early age, my mother instilled in me that my ethnicity did not have to impede upon my achievement, but rather should fuel it. Although black children face many challenges in the education system, I was taught to be inspired by my heritage rather than constrained by it. My attitude during school was to always do my best and strive for success.

ReConnect Africa: What have been the biggest lessons for you along the way?

Sarah Itam: The biggest lesson I have learnt is not to let anyone define who you are, but rather you should define yourself. Sometimes your ambitions may seem out of reach and impossible to others; but these doubts should not stop you from aiming for your goals.

ReConnect Africa: What advice can you offer to others who would like to take the path you have chosen?

Sarah Itam: The best thing about surgery is that it's both a science and an art. For new surgeons, always maintain your integrity and know when (and when not) to operate. Surgery is a demanding and competitive career hence it is important to stay focused, have good role models and keep your hobbies going.

Photo Credit: Neil Ahwan / Health In HD

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