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Profile: Dr Dixa Thakrar

Woman with long black hair holding a certificate

Dr Dixa Thakrar, (2021, DPhil Population Health), Junior Dean

Dr Dixa Thakrar is in her second year researching a DPhil in Population Health at Univ. She is also a Junior Dean and was recently given the College Community Award at Oxford SU’s Student Awards on Monday 12 June.

Was it a natural decision to do a DPhil? What’s your research about?
As some background, I am a trainee general surgeon with an interest in breast surgery. Since my early medical school days, I have wanted to pursue a higher research degree. Medicine is ever-changing, and to contribute to the field, I knew I would have to undertake research.

My father was diagnosed with colorectal cancer when I was quite young, and therefore I wanted to be involved in cancer research and so thought about becoming an oncologist. However, one day, as a newly qualified doctor, my consultant asked me if I wanted to amputate the toe of a patient with a diabetic foot infection. I jumped at the opportunity and immediately after the surgery, I felt so exhilarated, I knew I had to become a surgeon. I, therefore, pursued general surgery training, which allowed me still to work with cancer patients.

Breast surgery is a sub-speciality of general surgery. My want to pursue breast surgery stemmed from the fact that as a breast surgeon, you are not only treating the cancer but also potentially restoring the patient’s identity. One could argue that the media has over-beautified what it means to have breasts and therefore, if a patient must have a mastectomy, they may feel their identity, image of femininity, or sexuality has been tampered with or even destroyed. But with the incredible oncoplastic reconstructive techniques, patients can have their image restored.  Of course, not all patients feel may this way. Nevertheless, for me, it is quite an honour to be a part of an individual’s journey, from being a cancer patient, to not just cancer-free, but to feeling like their original self.

Now, a bit about my research:

Breast screening in the UK is offered to women aged 50-70, every three years. The screening mammogram is essentially an X-ray of the breast. What is interesting is that there are features on the mammogram that may either increase a woman’s risk of developing a breast cancer later on or may in fact mask a potential cancer that is already there, due to the limitations of the x-ray mammogram. My research is trying to understand the role of these features in breast cancer development and detection. Understanding these could potentially aid in identifying those patients who might benefit from tailored screening, to facilitate early detection of breast cancer or those for whom preventative measures may be beneficial. Surgical training in England, allows trainees to take time out to pursue a research degree. I was fortunate enough to be offered a place in Oxford and be funded by Cancer Research UK. After my studies, I plan to resume my surgical training but would like to maintain a strong academic interest.

How have you changed since walking through Univ’s doors for the first time?
Since walking through Univ’s doors for the first time, I have without a shadow of a doubt become more relaxed. Life as a general surgeon can be very stressful, and just being away from this and taking in the architecture, greenery and wisteria of Univ, is a world away from the hustle and bustle of a busy hospital setting. Walking through the doors has also been quite humbling. One can only imagine and be in awe of the intellectual conversations that could have taken place, given almost 800 years of history. As a doctor though, to study where the famous physician John Radcliffe and Prime Minster who brought in the NHS, Clement Atlee, once were, is truly inspiring.
What do you do outside your studies?
Outside my studies, I enjoy going to the gym and cycling around Oxfordshire (weather permitting). I also enjoy reading crime fiction and playing music. I regularly join weekly devotional music sessions, where I sing and play the harmonium, which is an Indian pump organ.

Woman with long black hair smilingHow is being a Junior Dean?
I have very much enjoyed my time as Junior Dean thus far. I work with a supportive and lively group of people in the welfare and decanal teams. There are parallels between being junior dean and a doctor which have proven useful – listening skills, communication skills, empathy, and decision-making abilities. My prior medical training has helped. Evidently, there are less enjoyable aspects to the job but overall, I am grateful for the opportunity. I was able to organise two pizza parties for the students at the North Oxford site, over the last year, and was incredibly touched when the students bought me flowers and chocolates. I recently won the Oxford Student Union College Community Award for my work as Junior Dean at Univ.

Describe Univ in three words.
Oxford’s oldest college

Published: 7 August 2023

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