Described as having a “steep upward career trajectory” by her nominator, in the eight years Zeenat Hassam has worked as a pharmacist she has had roles in the community, at a GP practice, as a senior university lecturer and now at Health Education England (HEE).
And it’s safe to say, with every job, she’s definitely gone the extra mile. Just months after qualifying, she was offered a part-time position as a GP pharmacist — a completely new role, where she was learning at the same time as the practice. Half-day sessions quickly became a permanent position.
By the time Hassam left the job in 2019, she was leading a team, along with conducting medication reviews and audits, and improving medicines safety. “The amount of development I went through there was significant and it was a huge formative part of my career as a pharmacist.”
After completing her independent prescribing qualification at De Montfort University, Hassam mentioned to her tutor that she was interested in doing some teaching and, before long, she was a senior lecturer, presenting to the General Pharmaceutical Council to get the independent prescribing course reaccredited, which she did, passing with flying colours. “I just genuinely loved teaching so much and I really connected with the students, it was definitely where I thought — this is my calling.”
Six months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and everything moved online. As a result, Hassam found herself working day and night to create interactive e-modules, but also being the go-to person for other academics. Hassam was asked to deliver presentations and guide academics on how to teach remotely, for which she admits she definitely had “imposter syndrome”, before realising she had been asked because she had worked hard to get it right herself.
Her postgraduate students were also working on the front line; during the pandemic, it became clear to Hassam that she needed to be a source of support in what, for some, was a “pretty bleak” time, and she ended up writing a paper on it. “The fact is that we do need to think about how we are supporting our distance learners that are working full-time. There’s a very strong framework for full-time students at the university and people try and sort of mishmash that framework to make it work for these postgraduate learners.”
She also created networks for academics grouped together with others at different stages of their career or different experiences. “I think it’s really important that we empower people to help one another. There’s so much to learn from other people,” she says.
Through her innovative ‘Humanising healthcare’ project, Hassam created a virtual patient to enable teams of remote learners to collaborate, over the course of a week, on how to manage a patient. It allows students to see the first-hand impact of recommendations and interventions they make, challenge preconceived prejudices and stereotypes, and also brings in socio-economic issues.
It spurned Massam’s interest into how to have an impact on teaching on a bigger scale, hence her move to her current role at HEE as a training programme facilitator. “It seemed like such an exciting time to get involved, because we are building the foundation. I can truly have an impact and shape the future of the workforce.”
Before she left De Montfort, she won a distinguished teaching award, after her students put her name forward. Her nominator said she is “passionate and ambitious” and Hassam clearly doesn’t do things by halves. On a recent visit back to her school, in a fairly deprived area of Leicester, to encourage students to take up STEM subjects, she didn’t just give a talk — along with a HEE colleague, they got Year 9 students designing a science-based virtual escape room.
“It fosters that whole idea of co-creation, where they’re putting their name against something, getting involved in something. One group did a word search where they find specialised cells. Another created an entirely different sort of language with symbols and you have to match to the letters to find out what the phrase is.”
She has taken their work to a digital creator to build eight rooms that the teenagers will then get to play. “We thought it’d be a fun way of trying to create an awareness about considering healthcare-related careers.”
It is this creative approach to inspiring the next generation that makes Hassam a true ‘woman to watch’.
“A very strong application that demonstrates her drive, potential, impact and support for the next generation of pharmacists”
“Her commitment to highlight health inequalities and challenge pharmacists’ prejudices is commendable”
“She is breaking barriers as an Asian woman in academia”
Meet the rest of The Pharmaceutical Journal’s Women to Watch 2022 here