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HLA Scholars implement project to support Muslim Women looking to build a career in surgery

Azra Khatun.jpg
Sulagna Roy.jpg

Healthcare Leadership Academy (HLA) scholars, Dr Azra Khatun and Dr Suga Roy have founded and implemented the Surgical Scarf Project at the Isle of Wight NHS Trust to support Muslim women looking to build a career in theatres.


In April 2020, the NHS England’s uniform guidance changed, meaning Muslim women can wear headscarves whilst working in theatre. However, during her surgical rotation at St Mary’s Hospital, Azra found the option to wear a head scarf in theatres had not yet been implemented.


As a part of the Healthcare Leadership Academy programme, scholars are required to choose a project with a social aim, then research it, plan it and enact it. 


For their project, Dr Azra Khatun and Dr Suga Roy decided to work together to develop the Surgical Scarf Project to help other Muslim women develop their careers in surgery without compromising their values and beliefs.


Through their research they discovered that the lack of awareness of the guidance change was something medical students and junior doctors were experiencing up and down the country.


According to a British Medical Journal Article by Samina Ali, around 3% of medical students are Muslim, many of whom follow the religious practice of wearing a hijab (a head dress or scarf worn to cover the head, neck, and shoulders) or abaya (a loose outer garment).


Working with Azra and Suga, The Isle of Wight NHS Trust has now implemented the surgical scarf, opening doors for Muslim women who want to pursue a career in surgery.  


With support from the HLA programme, passionate scholars like Azra and Suga are being empowered to change the world of healthcare, one small step at a time. 

Azra said: "The Surgical Scarf Project is a campaign and a procurement package aiming to raise awareness about the recent changes in NHS uniform guidance in theatres and also to ultimately empower Muslim women medical students and junior doctors to enter a career in surgery.”

"The Isle of Wight NHS Trust is the first Trust in the Wessex Region to have implemented the surgical scarf. By working together alongside our Race Equality Staff Network we were able to procure a supply of surgical scarves in October 2021.”

"The use of the scarves was also reflected by updating the Uniform Policy to ensure our female Muslim medical staff can attend theatre without compromising their core values and beliefs.”

Steve Parker, Medical Director at Isle of Wight NHS Trust added: “We are pleased to have supported Dr Azra Khatun and Dr Suga Roy with implementing the surgical scarf at our Trust. We are committed to being an inclusive organisation for all our staff to come and work in and by making these changes we hope this will encourage more Muslim women to take up a career in surgery.”

The Healthcare Leadership Academy (HLA) formed 2016 in response to demand from young clinicians and medical students to learn about leadership. The aim of the programme is to inspire the next generation of healthcare professionals and develop their understanding of leadership. 

Scholars are expected to develop a community project like the Surgical Scarf over the course of the one-year programme, with previous projects having reached national prominence, winning prizes, publications and presentations at national events including at the House of Lords.

George Miller - Director General at The HLA said: “We are so proud of what Azra and Suga have achieved. They chose a fantastic project, something which was important and personal to them,  and through their determination and hard work their project has gone on to make a real difference within the NHS. They are a credit to the HLA community.”

For more information or to apply for the HLA 2022 / 2023 cohort visit

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