Don't let your dream remain a dream

Published: 23/10/2023

For Black History Month, Dr Felix Fombon spoke with our Media and Communications Officer Rachel Yeager, about his life and career.

Dr Felix Fombon‘s life sets the gold standard for what hard work and optimism can bring.   

From a small town called Bali-Nyonga in Cameroon in West Africa, to the University of Freiburg, in what was then West Germany, to practising medicine as a Consultant in the UK, Dr Fombon’s dreams and determination have carried him far.  

“When I was 5 years old, my mother took me to one of the local schools and told me in the local language called Mungaka that she wanted me to learn how to read and write,” Dr Fombon said. “A few years later, I started dreaming of becoming a doctor in the future. Growing up in a small town, you just dream, like wow, maybe one day, but you’re just dreaming.”  

“While growing up in Cameroon, there was a lack of opportunities for young people to develop themselves.” At first, Dr Fombon’s dream seemed perhaps doomed to remain just a dream.  

Dr Fombon quickly differentiated himself through academic success at school. His hard work and high grades in secondary school earned him a scholarship to go to Germany in the late 1980s to study medicine. This was an excellent opportunity, but it would take Dr Fombon thousands of miles away from his family.    

“When you come from a financially poor background and you get such an opportunity to develop yourself – you take it,” Dr Fombon said. “I can’t pretend it wasn’t a cultural shock coming to Germany. Just arriving by plane, you look at the environment and everything is different to what you’re used to. Especially Germany after the war, it was a new and very developed country, and it was just me as a young teenager travelling to Germany without my family.”  

Adjusting to life in West Germany, Dr Fombon attended college to learn German and prepare for university studies. During that time, he was offered a place to study medicine at the prestigious Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg. 

“Initially I was very apprehensive,” he said. “It was easy to think; ‘These people went to war with the whole world. The Germans are probably racist.’ But I was pleasantly surprised. I was treated well; my classmates treated me just as one of them. And that changed my perspective in life. When you get to know people, it can be a very positive experience.”  

These friendships made by Dr Fombon became very strong and helped push him through hard times.  

“I was very fortunate to have such friends from college and university,” he said. "I was a part of them, and they were a part of me. We studied together and we are still friends to this day. They helped me not to feel sorry for myself, they kept me motivated and busy.”  

After graduating from the university, he spent the first few years training in Germany as a junior doctor. During that time, he rotated in different specialties including anaesthetics and intensive care medicine which he found very interesting and a possible career choice at the time. 

Dr Fombon decided to move to the UK in 1997, where he was able to reunite with some family and friends and remained close to several friends back in Germany.  

Dr Fombon completed his specialist training in the UK and has proudly served in the NHS for the past 25 years, during which time he has enjoyed his work as an anaesthetist and intensivist. “I am very honoured to be working and contributing to the care of patients in the NHS. I have some great friends and work colleagues,” he said. Again, he puts this down to his open-mindedness and hard work. 

“I wouldn’t do anything else [other than intensive care medicine and anaesthesia],” Dr Fombon said. “I get such job satisfaction from making a difference to people, especially people who are very ill. Obviously, it is a team effort, but just being able to contribute at a specialised level and make people well, there’s no better feeling.”  

For those wanting to follow Dr Fombon’s steps as an intensivist and anaesthetist, he encourages everyone to pursue their dreams and to not become discouraged.  

“I have had friends’ children ask me ‘I want to specialise in intensive care medicine and/or anaesthetics, how do I do it?’ And I just say it’s hard work. That’s all it is. You can’t give up the fight, especially before you even try. You cannot give up on the basis that there aren’t many black intensivists and anaesthetists, not many people who look like you in the field, which I understand. But if you want to do it, I believe you can. And here I am, if I can do it, you can too.”  

And in Dr Fombon’s case, he believed, worked hard, and certainly achieved.  

Dr Felix Fombon is an intensivist and anaesthetist working in Nottingham. He is one of the Deputy Chairs of the Primary FRCA OSCE Exams at the Royal College of Anaesthetists.