At a time when the NHS is coming under increasing pressure, Dr Amir Khan brings his friendly, restorative vigour to the proverbial surgery table. The young GP recently starred on Channel 5’s hit television series, GPs Behind Closed Doors, alongside his colleagues at the local Ridge medical practice, based in Bradford.
“We learned so much from each other while on the show,” Amir told us. “It’s been great to see how well our practice works as well as highlighting the many common health issues and how they’re handled – I, personally, love to laugh along the way.” Indeed, Amir is one of the most popular GPs of the show, appearing on its sixth series, because of his signature playful approach. In one very memorable moment, the jovial GP has an intimate but entertaining conversation with elderly British patient, Marjorie, who is worried about her upcoming overnight stay at a hospital as part of the check-up process for potential bowel cancer. “She very seriously told me that she could not go back to that particular location because last time she’d been admitted, there was a drunk man in the bed to the right of her, and two women ‘making love’ in the bed to the left!” In the episode, Amir successfully comforts the disappointed local, offering her a back-up plan, and soon has her smiling about digestive movements too. “She went on to say passing stools were like having to give birth so I suggested she name them as they come out! Yes, there’s stress and difficulty, and challenging exchanges, but you’ve got to live in hope!”
In fact, Amir believes that heartfelt communication is fundamental to his profession. “It’s what makes a good GP,” he told us, “and elevates a mediocre consultation to a quality one. You must connect with your patients in addition to being a competent clinician. This is important in the medical world generally, but especially as a general practitioner where you see so many different types of people suffering a broad range of conditions. You have got to individualise your relationships: they are not just a walking set of symptoms.”
Here, Amir went on to tell us of the new exams introduced by the RCGP (Royal College of General Practitioners), in which emotional intelligence is highly valued: “they’re geared towards talking about and exploring the patient’s ideas and expectations and incorporating that into the consultation: you must consider the particulars of what your patient is worried about e.g. you might personally think that a sore hand means they should be concerned about one thing while the patient might be anticipating quite another. You must be able to pick up on non-verbal cues, and ask the right questions e.g. one big one is at the end: ‘what were you hoping I could do for you today’? This could easily sound chastising, but not if you’ve asked the right way! Basically, GPs should understand that consultations are patient-led with them making the vast majority of the decisions. A good GP knows how to provide the appropriate information reassuringly, and work together as a team. Really, what’s best for one person does not necessarily help another.” Nor, indeed, is the solution what an individual GP might subjectively believe.
Ultimately then, it seems, what really matters is the patient feeling held by their local doctor. “It’s absolutely about trust between patient and physician,” Amir affirmed, “especially when it comes to diagnoses with long-term diagnoses e.g. chronic illnesses. That’s a special relationship where you’re seeing someone at their most vulnerable and trying to help them out. It’s why I really enjoy the idea of a traditional family doctor– where you have the same physicians looking after entire households over time. Maintaining a rapport through the right, open attitude from how you look at a person who’s come in for an appointment to your tone and posture, benefits everyone involved – you come away feeling rewarded too. I love experiencing colourful dynamics, and have a vast love of humanity. Given that GPs do have such a brief time to get to understand someone, it’s of the utmost importance to have that active listening skill from the onset which secures a strong bond, allowing the patient to clearly articulate what’s on their mind too.”
Amir’s concern for patient care poignantly extends to the concept of community around him. On the topic of healthcare which might yet need improvement, he stated: “it’s no secret really, but social deprivation plays a huge part in recurring health problems across the country, and especially in my area of Bradford. Lower income households struggle with good nutrition and obesity with the local school by Ridge Medical Centre having one of the highest obesity rates in Bradford. We need better public education on the subject, and social investment in these communities. These are forgotten Northern cities. The loneliness impacts on mental health and agitates physical ailments too. On house calls, I’ll sometimes see 8-10 people crammed into one 3-bedroom house. People struggle to even get their children to school: that’s enough of a day job for some. Harsh protocol around benefits and limited access to community life, with areas bringing people together being shut down, exacerbate the problem. Additionally, certain cultural communities can be hard to reach in the area, regarding vital screenings. This includes the South Asian and Eastern European population. I have actually been to supermarkets and Mosques to spread the informative word! Everyone deserves good health. Our system is not being adapted to be inclusive, but it should as we serve the population.”
And so, fighting in the front line of primary care, Amir emerges the perfect spokesperson for modern public health. Significantly, he demonstrates that emotional well-being is not just as important as physical health, an idea that’s become widely accepted, but further, central to it, in the developed world of 2019. “Acknowledgement is pivotal – chronic pain, for example febrile myalgia, often does not have a clear-cut chemical cure. It is all about cognitive behavioural management: reducing perceived stress as well as then cutting the instances of it down.” All-round prescribed positivity might very well be the worthy alternative to that new multivitamin supplement on the market, providing a boost to national health too. “My top three tips for good health are definitely mindful,” Amir roundly concluded: “make sure you socialise. Make connections and develop friendships; go outside and be in the natural world. There’s no such thing as the wrong weather, only the wrong clothes; finally, watch your diet. The right choices could change everything!” So, remember to schedule in salubrious hot drinks with friends and wrap-up warm for crisp walks, this Autumn – your life, without wanting to get too morbid before the 31st, might depend on it!
Would you say good consultations always end with the patient feeling comforted?
Yes, and I’m very tactile too. We had a diabetic patient on the show who was reluctant to use a mobility scooter. I asked him to let me have a go on it and was riding up and down the corridor!
What made you want to specialise as a GP?
Actually, I initially applied to vet school, but couldn’t bear to see animals in pain. I then applied to study medicine in the hope of becoming a paediatrician, but I love talking to people and babies can’t hold a conversation! I love interactions which are rich in emotional history and experience.
Finally, what are some upcoming TV projects of yours?
The Science of Sleep: How to Sleep Better, which is currently showing. Do tune in for the benefits of a good night’s sleep – including digestion, improved memory and regulation of hormones.
Also upcoming is a show called How to Lose a Stone with Ruth Langford, and there’s a book release on the horizon – very excited for that.
“Make sure you socialise. Make connections and develop friendships; go outside and be in the world"