My Week: Dr Fiona Pathiraja of Conquest Medschools

The medical entrepreneur on juggling a full-time job in medicine with starting up a business.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

As I work about 40 hours per week for the Department of Health, I have to fit the business in around my job. I don’t necessarily work full-time because I need the cash, but because I will have more credibility in the medical education field if I complete my training and become a consultant within the NHS. Luckily, my business partner Marie-Claire works flexibly, which really helps as she can do things during the day if I can’t make it. That’s not to say I don’t work hard – I do wake up at 5am everyday to run through the business paperwork before I get to work, and then I’ll work very late into the night as well. It’s difficult but it’s just a case of prioritising and being able to fit all these different things in. Oh, and it helps to have a supportive husband, too!

On a Monday we will usually have a brainstorming session over email. It can be slightly disjointed - my emails will start at 5am, whereas Marie-Claire will come to it at a more humane hour! This Monday we also had a meeting at City Hall to meet with some of the people behind a scheme called the Mayor’s Scholars. Our business has two arms – on one side we privately coach prospective medical school students to prepare them for interviews, and then we have a philanthropic arm too. We work on a time-bank model – so for every private service that we sell we put one hour of our time into a ‘bank’. Then once a month or every couple of months we’ll add up all the time and give it back to our local community in North London, where we provide coaching and training for under-privileged children in disadvantaged areas. The meeting at City Hall was to look at ways we can lend our expertise to kids involved in the Mayor’s Scholars scheme.

It’s certainly interesting to work with children from such a broad range of different backgrounds. The private clients, who typically come from slightly more privileged backgrounds, tend to be much more confident, much more driven and really know exactly where they want to be in 10 years time. They might have doctors in the family or perhaps in the wider circle of their parents’ friends. The children we encounter in our community work are a complete contrast: they are equally bright, but they may be the first person from their family, or even their school, that’s gone to university, let alone studied medicine. And so it’s a process of trying to build that confidence. Marie-Claire and I both believe it’s important to be able to help them with that, or the medical profession is not going to be representative of the wider population.

On Wednesday night we had a meeting with UCL and the Whittington Hospital to discuss plans for the Dick Whittington summer school that Marie-Claire and I are organising. The week-long summer school is targeted at year-11 students who are considering a career in medicine; we were teachers on the course last summer, but this year we are running the whole thing! Marie-Claire and I have been dedicating lots of time to planning the one week course – from the logistics of where it’s going to be held to who we want to staff it and what kind of ‘field trips’ we should take the students on.

When I’m not doing all this, I also spend a fair amount of my time writing. I write articles for medical journals, which Marie-Claire edits for me. I’ve also recently started writing a blog. I’m keen to write about the trials and tribulations of being a medical entrepreneur. There’s a view that professionals, such as doctors, aren’t supposed to have other interests that they might earn money from, so you have to deal with that as well as fitting in a business with work, and not losing sight of your priorities. It’s a balancing act, but it is do-able – there are medical entrepreneurs who do it, it’s just not publicised enough.

Drs Fiona Pathiraja and Marie-Claire Wilson are the co-founders of Conquest Medschools, a provider of coaching services to potential medical school students.

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