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3 Questions with Shahzad Akram

Shahzad Akram

KI Alumnus: Shahzad K. Akram

Program at KI: MD, 2002 (corresponding Swedish Registration, 2007); PhD, 2011

Current Position: General and Paediatric Surgeon, Karolinska Universitetssjukhus

My current position is divided between paediatric surgery and ECMO (life support) surgery. In simpler terms, I work as a specialist paediatric surgeon at KS, and also with the ECMO team, where I help to place patients on (and off) ECMO life support and perform necessary operations in conjunction with this care. My paediatric surgical training provides vital skills to the ECMO team, since a large number of our patients are children. ECMO is fascinating, not only physiologically (to put patients on a cardio-respiratory bypass machine), but the challenge of being on call for Scandinavia, Iceland and Ireland, where we fly in and help put patients on ECMO and transport them. One never knows where one will end up a couple of hours later!

Why did you choose KI?

Quite simply because it’s a world renowned institute specialized in medical research. I’ve lived in many different countries, studied at some of the best private schools and ended up going to med school at the Aga Khan University, in Pakistan. KI seemed to be the next logical step. I can also add that Sweden has always appealed to me, with the ideals and equality and humane approach to the work-life balance, so that was a definite plus. KI provided a new stimulating environment with a broad international community.

Alongside your clinical role at KS, you are also the MD at KI Student Health. What does this involve?

I probably sound ‘cliché’, but part of the charm of being a physician is actually looking at the bigger picture - taking care of patients with different problems, and of course the whole patient. Student health is extremely different from the surgical world and required me to step back and rethink my approach to evaluating various psycho-social and study-related problems. I like to push myself, and one of the areas in which I personally feel I could improve was dealing with stress and anxiety. Working with students and helping them get back on track or referring them to the appropriate level of care is rewarding in its own way. Don’t get me wrong, I love the challenges of the surgical world, the adrenaline kicks of ECMO and the fantastic gratitude one gets from working with children. Working part-time at student health helps me broaden my own views/horizons.

What is your advice to new graduates of KI’s medicine program?

To follow your career dreams. You really can achieve anything if you work for it. Choose a career you feel genuinely content with. You’ll probably end up working in that field for the next 30-40 years, so it’s important to do something you really feel passionate towards. Whether it’s research, clinical or something completely different, follow your instincts. Travel abroad and work in another country for a year or two if you have the chance. It’ll broaden your medical perspectives and help you become a more well-rounded physician and person. Prioritize the important things in your life and find the work-life balance that suits you.