Always equipped with an infectious energy and warm, welcoming smile, Shafi Ahmed has a multifaceted career. He is a top colorectal surgeon, a prominent figure in medical education, an entrepreneur and a leader in digital health.
Most recently, Shafi became the first ‘snapchat surgeon’, live streaming a hernia operation using Snapchat Spectacles.
In his role as Associate Dean at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Shafi is due to launch the UK’s first digital health curriculum for medical students, ‘Barts X Medicine’.
1. A question that I asked previous interviewees was: ‘If you had one week for the medical school curriculum based on your vision for the future and your desire to improve healthcare, what would you put on the syllabus for that week?‘ You are doing just that. Can you tell us a bit more about the module that you are introducing at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry?
Exciting things are happening. We are completely disrupting traditional medical education and introducing a brand new module in the curriculum, called Barts X Medicine. The first phase, for a selected number of students, is launching on January 13th 2017, and the plan is to roll it out to all students in 2018.
Renowned experts in digital health will teach the students for one Friday each week. The students will learn about entrepreneurship; everything from business plans to securing funding and bringing a product to market. We hope that through the programme, medical students will be inspired and empowered to become more entrepreneurially-minded doctors that challenge norms and are well-equipped to improve healthcare for future generations.
2. You are clearly a passionate educator, where does this motivation to change the education of future doctors stem from?
I want to give something back and help the next cohort of doctors benefit from some of the knowledge I have gained over the years and do this on a big scale. Philanthropy is my motivation I guess.
3. I love the Medical Realities VR specs,* there is nothing worse than being at the back of the theatre and not being able to see anything. However, skeptics may say that nothing replaces actual theatre experience, how do you respond to this?
I totally agree with them. There is no replacement. What we are doing with VR is augmenting not replacing hands-on experience. The reality is, with surgical training, there are not enough theatre hours available to get the experience required to be an excellent surgeon. VR can be accessed anytime, anywhere. Therefore, if a surgical trainee or medical student is not able to get enough experience, there is an option to continue to develop their skills and knowledge.
“VR is augmenting not replacing hands-on experience”
4. Medical realities is a forward thinking company. What is the story behind it? What inspired you to think outside the box and act on your idea?
Teaching needs to change and evolve. AR and VR are natural extensions of how we learn already,** just different mediums. During the next 5-10 years it is inevitable that the whole of learning will change. I wanted to be in a position to influence and be part of this change.
5. Can you give us some insight into the business model behind Medical Realities – how does it work? Are you planning to sell to the NHS?
We are developing a database of operations, constantly adding to it and creating a learning environment to go alongside. It will be downloadable as an app or with hardware and will be sold to institutions or universities at a cost. We also plan to distribute it for free in lower income countries, as I am a believer that everyone should have equal access to healthcare.
6. You have achieved a lot in surgery and the wider healthcare space, but you often remind your audiences that first and foremost you are a doctor, what tips do you have for juggling healthcare entrepreneurship and a successful clinical career?
Most doctors are versatile and able to manage busy schedules. My advice is: do projects that are in your comfort zone. Bring in expertise when you don’t have it, but stay in your zone of comfort.
“Do projects that are in your comfort zone”
7. One of your top tips from the Doctorpreneurs’ start-up school was ‘challenge everything’. What do you see as the key challenges in healthcare today and in the future?
There are three key areas:
1. Data. The question of how we manage ‘big data’. Who takes ownership? How do we empower patients to use data to their advantage? How can industry work to enable data to be transparent and available?
2. The interface between artificial and augmented intelligence. How can we use this to help healthcare delivery? For example, how can we make it the first point of contact to reduce the burden on primary care physicians?
3. Wearables. We are yet to exhaust the potential of wearable sensors and telemedicine to enhance the doctor-patient relationship.
9. Finally, this is an exciting time for health startups, which doctor-founded startups are you particularly excited about?
I am excited about Medic Bleep whose founder is an ex-junior doctor who really understands entrepreneurship and idea generation. The app will provide an important solution for both intra and inter-hospital communication. It is similar to WhatsApp but solves the problems surrounding information governance and also links to patient records, namely CRS (Care Records Service).
Doctorpreneurs is looking forward to speaking at the launch of Barts X Medicine on Friday 13th January 2017. To keep updated on the order of the day follow @Doctorpreneurs @ShafiAhmed5 @BartsXMed @DrCatSB
*VR- Virtual Reality
**AR- Augmented Reality