Where do Erasmus University’s students end up? In this section, graduates talk about their careers and their lives: what have they learned? In passing, they provide tips about what you should and shouldn’t do when you’re building your own career.

Name: Zohra Moallemzadeh (31)

Study: Medicine (2004-2011), trainee general practitioner (2013- summer 2017)

Current job: Trainee general practitioner (GP or doctor) with practice in Rotterdam Overschie; she also gives ‘Clinical Reasoning’ lectures at Erasmus MC.

Extra: In 2008, Zohra won the Dutch excellent student award in elections organised by ECHO, the Centre for Diversity Policy. She used her prize to follow a summer course in psychology at the University of California in Los Angeles. In addition, she followed programmes at both Cairo University and the American University of Beirut.

“Being a doctor is the best of all specialisms, because you deal with the whole person. A surgeon, on the other hand, only has to discuss a ‘wrist’ or a specific ‘fracture’. A person is made up of emotions and thoughts as well as their physical body. During my training, I’ve learned to take account of all three components when I ask someone what’s wrong with them. I do that by asking questions that I’m genuinely interested in and by watching their non-verbal communication.

During a consultation, lots of things go through my mind: I mirror his or her attitude to seek an approach and I pay great attention to the non-verbal communication. I make a list of potential diagnoses, and I think about what questions I still have to ask. Communication is a doctor’s most precious instrument, and I’ve improved hugely since the start of my training in 2013. And not only has this benefited me as a doctor, it has also proved beneficial in my private life.”

“To make patients feel at ease, I tend to use self-mockery, because, after all, I’m just a person. And, in my profession, it isn’t difficult to combine humour and conviviality.
Although it’s only human to have doubts, I personally find it difficult to talk about the doubts I have. As a doctor, I can’t always offer a solution. Sometimes, I can accept that, but on other occasions I find it very hard.”

Zohra Moallemzadeh

Urinary incontinence

“Because I see people when they are at their most vulnerable, I have to view them differently. A good example was a time when a woman was suffering from urinary incontinence. When she was unable to stop herself urinating in front of me, I took a couple of steps back. ‘No Zohra’, said a small voice in my head. I immediately realised how arrogant I must have appeared, while I actually wanted to appear modest. At such times, I think about my religious beliefs and ask for the strength to help the patient.

Modesty adorns mankind. However ambitious I am, I always strive to be modest. My father expressed it well: ‘The more fruit a tree has, the heavier the branches become and the closer to the ground they bend.’ In other words: all the baggage you collect in your life helps ensure you are modest or humble, not arrogant.”

Mindfulness was my eureka

“At the end of 2014, I was forced to have a six-month break due to thyroid gland problems. I loathed sitting at home unable to do anything. Nor was I able to share my distress with my friends, because ‘positive Zohra was never depressed’. Looking back at that time, I realise that you only really get to know yourself when you reach a low point in your life. However, during an eight week ‘mindfulness’ course, I learned how to ‘feel’ rather than simply think. By being well grounded, you are better able to answer questions like: what do I want, what makes be happy?

One of the exercises involved walking barefoot along a beach; and I loved it straight away. I still drive to Kijkduin or Scheveningen twice a week to walk on the beach. And even in winter I try to walk barefoot, although it’s really cold!”

My patients are my mirror

“Every day, whether on the beach or in a restaurant, I write something in my diary, even if it’s only one sentence. I write about what I’ve thought, felt and learned that particular day. As a doctor, I’m learning a lot about myself; about both my strong points as well as the points I need to improve.

One by one, the patients I see hold up a sort of mirror. And that doesn’t only apply to consultations when patient contact is good, but also to the times when things don’t go so well. Some patients come back with the same complaint twenty times. Despite that, every patient is fascinating, and I pay everyone the same amount of attention. It’s only for fifteen minutes, I think.
The fact that my training has taught me to approach all my patients in this way has made me a better person. Both my feet are firmly planted on the ground, which, in turn, makes me a better doctor.”

“There’s a plant next to the waiting room door. Every time I go to call a patient in, I consciously look at the plant and feel grateful. For a couple of seconds, I think about my life and smile inwardly. At that moment, I realise how thrilled I am to be a trainee doctor and able to help patients. Mindfulness really taught me to how to ‘feel’.”