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Blog. The medical dream continues – the road to becoming a doctor

Date 20.06.2019

Today is international Biomedical Science Day. Led by the Institute of Biomedical Science, the aim is to inform the public about the world of a science at the forefront of healthcare innovation and celebrating the work of the scientists, support staff and students in the field.

Belinda Chihota is a University of Northampton life sciences graduate whose lifetime ambition was to qualify as a doctor.

As part of Biomedical Science Day, Belinda blogs about the road to her dream career and gives some top tips to budding biomedical scientists.


Finding the right road

Before embarking on my undergraduate degree, I was a strong believer there was only one road that would lead me to my ultimate goal of becoming a doctor. However, 7 years later I have a very different story to tell!

Where there’s a will…

During my undergraduate studies, I immersed myself in a variety of interesting activities that gave me invaluable experience in hands-on clinical work. I volunteered as a First Responder for the British Red Cross, UK, took a medical elective in Chang Mai, Thailand (see pic) and joined Doctors of the World UK at their London Clinic assisting migrants get access to primary health care. Through these experiences, I not only re-energized my passion for medicine but quickly realized the intersecting fields of public health, healthy inequity, policy, research and advocacy. All skills I had learnt during my time at UoN. It was at this point I realized I wanted to establish a career encompassing all these key elements, and I was determined to find the road that would lead me there.  At this point, I finally returned home to Zimbabwe and transitioned to the world of global health with a keen spirit to translate my newly acquired skills under the African skies. A quick stop in Uganda and Zimbabwe, I eventually set base at the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ) where I focused on real-world clinical research involving patients with HIV and viral hepatitis B co-infection.

Alumni Belinda Chihota is pictured in two photos, including one where she presents at an international conference

Bioscience graduate Belinda Chihota and (at right) presenting at the Conference of Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, Seattle (2019).

When the two roads meet

Whilst in Zambia I began working with a research group called IeDEA (International Epidemiology Databases to Evaluate AIDS), an international consortium working in seven regions addressing high priority research questions and streamline HIV/AIDS research. Working with this highly motivated team of epidemiologists, data specialists, clinicians and researchers, I had finally found that perfect blend of real-world patient centered research and care. I eventually transitioned fully to join the IeDEA-Southern Africa team and Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (ISPM), University of Bern.  It is through these networks and collaborations that I am now working towards my doctoral degree whilst continuing to engage in work focusing on noncommunicable diseases in Southern Africa.

Top tips

It has been four years since I graduated from UON and there are key lessons I have learned which have been invaluable for me on this journey

  • Define your own path! Find your interests and pursue them, find the common factors (there is always at least one), don’t be afraid to pave that path yourself
  • Network, network, network! It is extremely important to build contacts as early as possible. Identify mentors and begin fostering professional relationships, they last a lifetime
  • Publications count! I was fortunate to publish part of my undergraduate dissertation with my supervisor and mentor Dr. Lee Machado. This proved invaluable as I came to realize how much research is publication driven. Gain exposure as early as possible to the manuscript writing process and understanding what drives good research. The course at UoN and assignments helped me realize this
  • Uni presentations are great practice. I recently gave a presentation at a large International AIDS Conference (CROI 2019). I remembered my final year Immunology presentation and how the principles stay the same. My advice is at the time Uni assignments may seem mundane but they are good foundations for a successful career in this field
  • Finally, we are all unique. Follow your path and purpose, and never lose sight of what drives you to work hard. With a lot of patience and commitment, anything is possible!

Find out more about the Biomedical Science (BSc) degree at University of Northampton.

Find out more about other biological science degrees at the University, including Human Bioscience and Molecular Bioscience.