I started my career as a pharmacist in Iraq, in 1992, when I graduated from the School of Pharmacy at the University of Baghdad. I soon went on to become a lecturer in the same school, and, in 1999, earned my Master’s degree in clinical pharmacy — a speciality that I am passionate about.
I rose through the university ranks to become an assistant professor and, in 2013, I was offered a full sponsorship from the Iraqi government’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to study for a PhD at the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Cardiff University.
I couldn’t believe my luck — it was my biggest dream to study for a PhD in the UK. My supervisor, Mathew Smith, director of learning and teaching at Cardiff University, emailed me an outline of the research project. It focused on reducing medication errors in care homes, where older people — often with complex medical conditions — are at particular risk of medicines-related harm. I couldn’t wait to get started in my studies and use my skills and experience to help this vulnerable group of people.
The UK is so different to Iraq: the culture, the religion, the weather. It was difficult to adjust
It was exciting, but it was not easy. Moving to Wales presented a big challenge for me and my family: my husband, Saman, and our two children, Jamal and Ban. After spending more than 20 years as a lecturer, I found myself as a student again — I struggled. This, coupled with the UK being so different to Iraq Â— the culture, the religion, the weather — made it difficult to adjust.
However, the hardest struggle was my son’s. Jamal was one of the top students in his primary school in Baghdad, but suddenly he found himself in a different country without knowing the language. When he arrived in the UK, the extent of his English was counting to ten and reciting the alphabet. There were times when he wanted to give up; especially in his first year of sixth form, when his mental health was poor and his AS level grades were low.
I loved to help him with his revision, especially for biology — my favourite subject. It reminded me of being a school student and refreshed my mind. All the while I had to work on my own studies, but the stress paid off. With the support of his family, friends and school teachers, Jamal turned his grades around and did exceptionally well at A-level — two A*s in maths and biology, and an A in chemistry. In the same summer, I completed my PhD. These were our biggest successes of 2019.
It has been such a pleasure to support my son in his journey. Before we moved to the UK, I worked in a community pharmacy in Baghdad, which I opened in 1999 and still own today — another pharmacist is responsible for it while I am away. I often took Jamal to the pharmacy, and he saw how I talked with patients and educated them about their medicines. In October 2019, he made the next step in his journey: he began studying for an MPharm at Cardiff University.
Cardiff is a lovely, friendly city and its university is one of the best in the UK. Studying and researching here has expanded my knowledge and skills, and it has enriched my life and career. I can’t wait to see what it has in store for Jamal and I.
Fadya Al-Hamadani, pharmacist and researcher, Cardiff University