Dagenham refugee on her journey to becoming a surgeon

Sala Abdalla

Sala Abdalla is now a hospital consultant after arriving in Dagenham as a child refugee - Credit: London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust

A former refugee who arrived in Dagenham as a child has revealed her inspirational story of becoming an NHS surgeon.

Sala Abdalla could not speak English when she arrived with her family, after leaving Sudan when she was ten.

She was determined to have a career in medicine after the impressions private healthcare in her homeland left on her.

Sala said: "It made a real impression on me that if you didn’t have money you were often destined to die prematurely of otherwise treatable conditions.”

Her journey has taken her to become a consultant at Ealing Hospital in west London.

The 37-year-old carries out a wide range of procedures in her role as a general and upper gastrointestinal surgeon.

She said: "Anything is possible if you have the right work ethic.

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“I sought solace in education and my teachers at Robert Clack School were extremely supportive. They never doubted that I would make it and I owe them a lot of gratitude.”

Becoming a surgeon takes hard work, commitment and sacrifice, according to Sala.

Her advice to young women wanting to enter the profession is "never think it is beyond them".

"Surgery is one of the most demanding of medical disciplines, requiring years of dedication, discipline and resilience," she added.

“However, it teaches you to become confident, decisive and an excellent problem solver. 

“I would highly recommend a career in general surgery to any young person who is interested in a career that demands a lot but gives you even more in return.”

Alongside her work, Sala has also set up a charity called Operation International.

The organisation sees groups of surgeons, nurses and anaesthetists volunteer to travel to low income countries where they carry out free operations and train local doctors and nurses.

She has made two trips to hospitals in rural Ghana working with fellow volunteers who performed 143 procedures in less than a week.

“It brings its own challenges and you just have to adapt. Power cuts were common and I sometimes had to operate with a torch strapped to my head.

"The staff in Ghana were exceptionally innovative and hard-working. It was a pleasure to serve the local community.”