Women of the HSMA: Dr Nitha Naqvi

Q&A - 7TH MARCH 2022

Dr Nitha Naqvi of Royal Brompton Hospital on female role models, valuable advice and the main challenges facing women in healthcare today

To mark International Women’s Day 2022, we are celebrating the women of the HSMA. Each day we will be publishing a Q&A with one of the remarkable women who make up our vibrant community of healthcare specialists. Meet Dr Nitha Naqvi, a consultant paediatric cardiologist at Royal Brompton Hospital.

Who are the women who have inspired you the most?
I come from a line of strong women. My grandma was one of the first women on the radio in Pakistan. She worked from the age of 16 and put my mum and her sister through university after all the men in the family passed away. My grandma worked until her late 70s. She always looked glamorous with perfect makeup and hair even in her 90s. My mum worked a 100-hour week for years as an NHS junior doctor but still managed to be a fantastic mother to me and my sister. I am still amazed that she managed to sew me a new dress for every birthday party I attended while working all those hours. Both my mum and my grandma taught me about hard work and to keep going even when life seems tough.

Do you have any advice for other women looking to follow a career in healthcare?
I very much encourage women to pursue a career in healthcare. You will have the best colleagues and every day will be interesting. Whatever your personality, there will be a career suitable for you. I feel very privileged to have a job that I enjoy so much.

As a woman, what are the biggest challenges you have faced along the way?
I have had many challenges in my career, including losing my job after getting pregnant because no one wanted to pay for my maternity leave. I took the opportunity of being on enforced ‘holiday’ to set up my own business teaching doctors who had recently arrived from overseas how to work in the NHS. This led me to teach more than 3,000 wonderful doctors, most of whom are still working in the NHS today.

On a personal level, one of my children had serious health problems, and was in hospital more than 13 times before the age of three. It was a struggle working long hours as a junior doctor, studying for exams, while also looking after a sick child. I was even expected to work while my child was a patient on the ward. I did it, learned resilience and, as my mum and grandma taught me, just kept going. Things always get better, and I am always glad I am a woman – we have the best clothes and make the best friends.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreakTheBias. What does this mean to you? 
Although life can be tough for women, things are certainly better than they used to be – even from when I started as a doctor. For me, #BreakTheBias means dealing with unconscious bias, which is pervasive and sinister. It is holding talented hard-working women back, especially from senior leadership roles. Top career progression is even more difficult for women from ethnic minority backgrounds. I am always so disappointed when women don’t support other women, but I am so very grateful to the women and men who as employers, colleagues, partners and fathers do support women.