Nkolika Anyabolu, GP and Medical Educator, Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust
Helping international medical graduates (IMGs) to adapt culturally and looking at the art of communication
Nkolika Anyabolu is a GP in a rural practice in Dorset. Raised in Nigeria and a working mum-of-three, Nkolika is also a Medical Educator, a Frailty lead and a volunteer for the BAME Health Collaborative. Her passion is painting, which she brings to bear on her work as a doctor: “Medicine is an art. It’s about communication. Painting is more visual but I bring art into my role as a GP,” she smiles.
As a senior clinician, Nkolika works as an educator to train junior doctors: “To be a generalist is very rewarding but can also be quite daunting,” she says. “I help junior doctors understand amongst other things how to prioritise, practise safely and how they can seek help. I teach them what they’re expected to do as general practitioners, as the gatekeepers of NHS resources.”
"It’s well known that international medical graduates tend to do less well in UK exams compared to UK graduates."
Her teaching also extends to increasing cultural awareness for international medical graduate (IMG) junior doctors, new to the UK. She explains: “It’s well known that international medical graduates tend to do less well in UK exams compared to UK graduates. Part of the issue is communication and lack of cultural awareness. I explain to them that it’s important to see culture like glasses – lenses you see the world through. Once they understand that, it helps to mitigate misunderstandings, like when issues arise with patients or colleagues. I use my lived experience to highlight the importance of trying to see things from someone’s cultural perspective.”
"For me the biggest challenge has been breaking through people’s perception. You always have to keep pushing against that."
Few are better positioned to teach medical graduates about cultural adaptation than Nkolika, who emigrated to the UK as an adult from Nigeria, in 2010. The biggest challenge she has faced is changing people’s perception: “It’s difficult for people to understand those who have left the life they’ve built, to come to a new country like the UK to start a new life. There is often a lack of understanding. It’s almost the biggest thing that one can ever do, the most sacrifice that one can ever make. It takes a lot of courage. The people who do it are often some of the most highly qualified people, the most passionate and the most loyal. They have left their life behind to start something new in the UK even though they don’t know what the outcome is going to be. But they want to give back to the system. For me the biggest challenge has been breaking through people’s perception. You always have to keep pushing against that.”
"Medicine is an art as it’s about communication."
A passionate painter, Nkolika is adamant that medicine is also an artform: “I’ve always been an artist. Ever since medical school, I’ve done art alongside medicine. For me, art is my escape. Medicine is an art as it’s about communication. Painting is more visual but I bring art into my role as a medic.
To be the best physicians we can be, it’s about understanding the art of communication. The art of body language, the art of empathy and the art of actually listening to somebody. Just like a painting, you look at the colour, the lines, the feeling, and you try to understand what the artist is trying to tell you. It’s the same with a patient. It’s not just what they say, it’s about what they mean. To understand that is an art. I try to fuse art and medicine together as that’s where humanity comes in. Art is powerful.”
Genevieve Shaw, Editor