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Dr Afiniki Akanet: Experiences of an international student, GP and writer

GP and writer Dr Afiniki Akanet (MBChB Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery, 2012; PGA Understanding Childhood, 2014) is a General Practitioner (GP) specialising in mental health based in Coventry.

Uncover Afiniki’s journey as an international student, her devotion to improving mental health in the community and the motivations behind her love of writing.

What makes you so passionate about mental health?

I was lucky enough to do three psychiatry rotations as a junior doctor. It was while working in inpatient and community psychiatry settings that I met some inspirational and passionate mental health nurses and doctors. I started to see how mental health affects everything and realised that most of my writing is about inspiring people to live happier, productive lives. In General Practice, I derive so much satisfaction from seeing people overcome mental illness, which can sometimes be more disabling than their physical health conditions.

What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always loved books and writing. My parents encouraged me and even promised to help me publish a book when I was older. Taking an unplanned year out in 2007 was the perfect opportunity to make that a reality, so I wrote a novel when I was 23. My inspiration for writing is always the message, so I only write when I have something to say.

What do you enjoy most about being a GP?

I don’t know of many jobs where you can speak to so many interesting people about a range of issues, (try to) solve their problems and learn so much. I enjoy being able to work and still have time for my family and other interests. I like the breadth of knowledge required, the fact that we have amazing teams supporting us and the continuity of care and relationships we get to build over time with families.

What was it like as an international student studying in the UK?

Mine wasn’t a smooth journey, because I struggled financially when my parents’ business in Nigeria struggled, but I’m grateful for the experience which helped me to become more resilient. When I had to take a year out, I started a charity called Forte Charity for Inspiration and wrote my first book Fortitude to share my story and help others. Studying in the UK helped me to come out of my shell and make great friends. I took advantage of the opportunities around me, such as access to good libraries, keen experts and other resources I might have struggled to access freely in Nigeria.

How did your time at Warwick Medical School (WMS) influence who you’ve become today?

I had to manage my time well, so I wasn’t too stressed during exam periods, especially as I was not only learning to pass exams. The culture at the University encouraged extra-curricular activities which were good for my mental health and life as a doctor now. I met some inspiring doctors and tutors (who still influence my practice of medicine), and got married in the second half (phase 2) of medical school. I believe that having a supportive husband, family and friends helped me to succeed as a medical student. Having a medical qualification from a prestigious university has opened doors for medical and non-medical posts that I enjoy today.

What have been the biggest challenges in pursuing your medical career and how did you overcome them?

Juggling priorities as a wife, mother and doctor. I overcame this when I realised that life is not a race. I chose to work/train part-time at certain points and am only just taking on roles I might have been able to do years ago. There is also the challenge of being a female from an ethnic minority group in a profession like medicine. I speak up against racism and sexism when I see it, but I do not stand around looking for it. I have been treated very well by most people in my career and hope I’m able to help others overcome their challenges too.

Can you tell us about your new book 'Money & Mental Wellbeing'?

I wrote it during the Covid-19 pandemic because of the significant rise in mental health consultations in General Practice. The way we make and manage money, the jobs we do, how we spend our time and invest for the future all have a significant impact on how we see ourselves and our emotional wellbeing. I was pleased to read the great reviews from psychiatry and financial experts and am hoping it will be an eye-opener for many, especially as we reflect on our money and health post-lockdown.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to continue working as a GP, writer and public speaker, because these roles give me an avenue to contribute positively to society. I expect to be busier over the coming months with the release of my new book, but I plan to make time for a holiday later in the year. More imminently, I’m preparing for a trip to Abidjan, Ivory Coast with Forte Charity for Inspiration, after winning a Changemakers Award from Coventry City of Culture. It will be great to be able to travel again and meet young people in Africa.