Our latest addition to the Onyx Health Team, Hassan Thwaini, tells us about his amazing journey from working as an essential worker at the forefront of the country’s health service to providing basic medical support to villages in the outskirts of the Far East. He will give us an insight as to what got him into pharmacy in the first place, and how he’s put his clinical know-how to good use as a Medical Writer.
They call me Mr Semi-Worldwide.
Hey, I’m Hassan, Hass, H-man, Hass-man, or Hoss, call me whatever you like (but keep it clean), I’ll awkwardly wave back regardless. I have a pretty bizarre accent. I was born in Iraq, then moved to Jordan, Abu Dhabi, Essex, a brief stint in Toronto, Belfast, and Newcastle. So whatever accent you’re imagining now – I’ve got it!
I’m a specialist clinical pharmacist turned medical writer.
I obtained my Pharmacy (MPharm) degree from the University of Sunderland, after which I went on to pursue various managerial roles in the community for a couple of years. These years were interesting to say the least. I had the privilege of running and managing my own addiction clinic, and acquired training in travel health, which helped me run various travel vaccination clinics across the North-East.
As fulfilling as my role in community was providing my patients with the advice necessary to enhance treatment compliance and prevent unnecessary GP appointments, I found myself craving more of a clinical challenge. I wanted to be part of the primary care team, and so I enrolled as a locum clinical pharmacist at the Northumbria Healthcare Foundation NHS Trust.
I pursued my clinical rotations for one year and was offered a band 7 surgical position at County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust shortly after. I trained as an orthopaedic surgical pharmacist for a few months before I decided to take a sabbatical to travel the world – an aspiration I had set myself to achieve before the age of 30.
I started my journey in Hong Kong. I always knew my ability to book a vacation at the right time was awful, but I had no idea it was this bad. I’d only gone and booked myself a cheeky 2-night stay in the centre of Hong Kong amidst the 2019 riots. And so, I spent two luxurious nights in a hotel room whilst watching the smoke rise from the chaos below.
My next stop was Japan. My initial intention was only to visit Japan to witness the horrendous defeat of Ireland to the home team in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, however my vacation-booking curse struck yet again, escalating this short sport-spectating holiday into a full road trip across the country. To be honest, I thought the famous Japanese Bullet Trains were a fictional future idea, and so didn’t even think to look at trains. What’d I do? Booked myself a Skoda Fabia and drove around 2,000km across the country, completely missing all rugby games I had a ticket for but had a riveting time regardless.
That fuelled my wanderlust. Next stop – the land of finding oneself. Southeast Asia.
Thailand was up next, and that was a blast. I travelled up and down the country using appropriate public transport and made some life-long friends along the way. Afterwards came Malaysia for a couple of days – a pit stop or rest from the endless walking. And that’s when things took a turn. The world was hit by a pandemic, and entire countries started to shut down. Literally. (See, I’m terrible at booking holidays).
My original plan of going to Vietnam went out of the window as they were the first to close their borders – annoyingly so as my flight back home to Newcastle was due out of Ho Chi Min City 2-weeks later! What did I do? Went to the airport and asked if any flights were leaving to go to Europe. None. All the flight desk had was the final flight out of Malaysia, to Bali. So, I took it.
Arriving in Bali was quite surreal. I had about 2 days of normality during which it seemed the news of the pandemic haven’t quite reached the island somehow, and then things went bad – quick. Roads shut down, lockdowns in full force, and repatriation flights being offered to every single nationality other than British (cheers Boris).
I spent 4 months living on a budget, which was difficult even on Indonesia’s standards. But I had a good time regardless. I found an opportunity to start up a charity with a friend of mine and was able to help provide basic healthcare to villagers who struggled during the pandemic. The charity, Rescue 2000, has since flourished, and is now sponsored by multi-million-dollar influencers and is signed up for a Netflix documentary at the end of 2023.
However, I needed to start thinking of finding my own source of income, as I hadn’t saved up with the intention of being deserted on an island. I had a look online to see if there was anything a UK-qualified pharmacist can do online, until I came across an article about a pharmacist working as a medical writer in the Bahamas.
I fell in love with the idea of medical writing as soon as I’d read the article. However, I had no clue as to how to even get started. I decided to look for medical writing jobs online, and actually landed a couple of interviews with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society to write for BNF publications. I didn’t get the role because of my lack of experience. So, I kept looking.
I soon found out what the word ‘freelance’ meant. I searched for ‘freelance medical writing’ and was taken to several platforms designed for freelancers to land some paid work. Essentially, it was Tinder for low-paying gigs. It was all I could do at the time because of my lack of experience, but I was able to land quite a few writing jobs here and there to get me by, which eventually got me the experience and credentials necessary for me to pursue a career with Onyx Health.
My years of experience as a pharmacist, and my three years of working as a writer for a variety of healthcare niches make this role even more enjoyable. I’m writing pieces for me. I am a healthcare professional. I’ve been on the receiving end of hundreds of promotional pharmaceutical materials such as new medicine brochures and leaflets, and it’s time for me join the other side.
I’m a huge fan of all things research and all things medicine. I used to watch laparoscopic nephrectomies instead of You’ve Been Framed every day after school, and I’m that weirdo that voluntarily went to hospital (work) early to watch a surgery before I started my day. I now have the platform and the opportunity to showcase my knowledge and experiences in words. Words that can hopefully motivate prospects for Onyx Health clients and most importantly, help patients.