From Adversity to Advocacy: My Journey as an SAS Doctor

Published: 06/10/2023 | Author: Dr Sunil Kumar

For SAS Week 2023 Dr Sunil Kumar reflects on his pathway to becoming an Associate Specialist, his commitment to representing SAS doctors on College Council and the varied interests that inspire and sustain him.  

Like many International Medical Graduates (IMGs), I embarked on my UK journey with aspirations of becoming a consultant. My odyssey began with SHO training in Anaesthetics in West Yorkshire, where I also passed my primary FRCA exam. Aiming for ST3 training in 2008, the altered visa regulations posed a challenge, as they prioritised UK and European nationals, leaving IMGs to vie for any remaining spots. Simultaneously, we were joyously awaiting the birth of our first daughter. With limited options, I embraced an SAS (Staff Grade) role, as the alternative was leaving the UK. The challenges were multifaceted, from navigating abrupt policy changes to balancing burgeoning family commitments and adapting to a new role under pressing circumstances. The journey was about surmounting barriers and continuously learning and adapting. In every challenge, I saw an opportunity to grow, learn, and contribute more profoundly to the role. 

From necessity to fulfilment  

This role, initially a necessity to maintain my UK stay, blossomed into the greatest decision of my life. It provided a radiant work-life balance, enabling exploration of various interests outside medicine; like delving into the hospitality industry and subsequently owning two restaurants, finding a newfound passion in the entertainment sector, producing short films, and distributing movies in the UK & Ireland. It was during this time I learned the importance of self-care and found a new passion: lifestyle medicine. 

After earning Fellowship from the College of Anaesthesiologists of Ireland and a few enriching years at the staff grade level, the next logical progression, the associate specialist grade, was unavailable. I relocated to Jersey hoping for growth, but the progression was stymied, necessitating a return to the UK as a Specialty Doctor. 

Fortuitously, I found a role as an Associate Specialist in my current trust University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust, where I happily continue my journey, coupled with significant strides in lifestyle medicine. I became board certified, assumed a lead tutor role at the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine, and initiated various health and well-being workshops on my own time for organisations like the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), families, and friends, and various charities. I am honoured to be the vice chair for health and well-being at BAPIO and recently joined the faculty in NHS England NW to conduct workshops for SAS Doctors across the northwest. I authored a book titled ‘The Power of Self-Care: Transforming Heart Health with Lifestyle Medicine’ aimed at shedding light on the crucial role of lifestyle medicine and self-care in maintaining heart health. 

Representing SAS doctors on College Council 

Navigating the rewarding path as an enthusiastic SAS Doctor, I was elected as a Council Member of the College in 2021, representing my fellow SAS doctors. Being elected by my peers to represent them on Council is a great responsibility and one that I approach with insight, dedication and zeal."  

Since being elected I have fervently advocated for SAS doctors, championing their interests and concerns at every opportunity. For example, I initiated a campaign to spotlight the diverse and significant autonomous work undertaken by SAS doctors so that the role could be better understood. This initiative was warmly welcomed and continues to gain momentum. I contributed to ACSA reviews as part of the ACSA committee and ensured the representation of SAS doctors through my role on the Nominations, Workforce and Global Partnerships Committees and the Finance and Resources and Membership, Media and Development Boards. I also served as a lead for SAS wellbeing on the Workforce Wellbeing Group, a collaboration with the Association of Anaesthetists and other stakeholders that developed – amongst other things – a departmental wellbeing lead job description and the College’s Wellbeing Hub.  

In my ongoing journey, I also had the privilege of supporting colleagues in their delivery of high-quality anaesthetic services through contributing to two GPAS chapters on the Non-Theatre Environment and Trauma & Orthopaedic Surgery and co-authored an article to extend support for SAS doctors in the RCoA Bulletin, striving for the recognition and enhancement of SAS doctors’ roles and well-being. In addition, I supported the College’s celebration of South Asian Heritage Month by sharing my own experience of diversity and heritage in the medical community. 

Being part of the leadership of the College through my role on Council and the SAS Committee is a responsibility I cherish. It allows me the opportunity to shape discourse, influence policies, and ensure the representation and advancement of SAS doctors. It is a platform to foster a conducive and inclusive environment and contribute to the progressive trajectory of the College and the medical community at large. 

On reflection, my journey as an SAS doctor in anaesthesia, albeit fraught with challenges, has been incredibly rewarding. Every barrier surmounted has been a stepping stone to new opportunities and learning experiences, all enriched by the support of the College. Being part of the College's leadership is a platform to drive positive change, foster inclusive growth, and champion the professional interests and wellbeing of SAS doctors. 

Despite the opportunities for further training and CESR applications, I remain ardently committed to my SAS role. The multifaceted experiences, the ability to champion the causes of fellow SAS doctors, and the enriched balance in professional and personal realms affirm my joy and fulfilment in this chosen path every single day. 


Last year, Dr Kumar initiated a campaign to enable our SAS members to share their stories with us, which shone a spotlight on members’ vast range of skills and expertise.  

We are keen to celebrate more of our SAS members. If you would like to write about your career, interests and achievements so that we can share them with a wider audience, please contact Susan Soper on