Professor Onn Min Kon, Head of the Tuberculosis (TB) service at the Trust and Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the National Heart & Lung Institute, Imperial College London, originates from Malaysia, and shares his story of how his 'roots' inspired a British education and career in medicine.
My name is Onn Min Kon and I am a Consultant Respiratory Physician based at St Mary’s and Hammersmith Hospitals. I am the head of the Tuberculosis service for the Trust and also a professor of Respiratory Medicine at Imperial College London.
I became a consultant at St Mary’s Hospital in 1999 but had also been a registrar there between 1993 - 1994. The warm and inclusive nature of the hospital was very much part of what drew me back to apply for a consultant's post and I have never regretted that decision. It is very much this spirit of trying to make all of our team know they are valued and part of the ‘family’ that I have tried to preserve throughout my career.
My father was the first British trained optician in Malaysia and strongly felt a British education was second to none, he sent all his children to the UK to study. I arrived in the UK as a teenager feeling very out of place so at least very aware of the additional challenges. The support of family and friends made this journey enjoyable and fruitful.
I had initially intended to be a GP as I thought this offered me the best way of connecting with patients but after my first Senior House Officer (SHO) post in respiratory medicine, I became interested in how you could preserve that contact but also offer acute and chronic disease management within a specialty. Respiratory Medicine has a unique mix of preventative, diagnostic and therapeutic options.
As a junior, I vividly remember a conversation with a kind and well-meaning cardiologist who suggested I changed my name to ensure I was shortlisted for jobs. It made it clear to me that I had to excel to be able to do the things that interested me and not to conform to what was the ‘norm’ at that point. Since choosing this specialty I have been blessed to have had some inspirational supervisors and mentors who encouraged me to achieve what I could.
I developed a subspecialty interest in Tuberculosis because it had an even wider perspective on how societal factors impacted on people’s health and how we need to fully understand someone’s journey to be able to cater for them getting better.
This East and South East Asian Heritage Month is a reminder that whatever our background, we need to recognise, encourage and celebrate our diverse workforce in an environment where we recognise the contribution of all our staff in all the roles they take on within this organisation.
I am proud and honoured to be able to work here and to be part of the Imperial ‘family’.