As a teenager, Zaheera Essat had always aspired to go to university but never thought she would go on to complete a PhD and become a lecturer.
However, that is exactly what the Lecturer in Midwifery has achieved – what’s more she has done it all with De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).
Zaheera puts her inspirational career down to her desire ‘to make a difference’ and DMU’s persistence in ensuring she achieved her full potential.
She was one of the first in her family to go to university - and was the only ethnic minority in her cohort about 20 years ago.
Nevertheless, times have changed and as she stands at the front of lecture theatres, one of the things she embraces most about DMU is its equality and diversity.
Zaheera said: “There are so many great opportunities available at DMU and so much positivity. DMU really embraces diversity and inclusivity and it is great to experience this as an ethnic minority, Muslim woman.
“I started working at DMU after studying here and I couldn’t be happier. This is exactly where I want to be.
“DMU has definitely shaped me as a person. It just shows you can achieve amazing things with hard work.”
Zaheera grew up in Leicester but spent some of her childhood in her father’s homeland of Malawi, south-eastern Africa, which ‘played a huge part on her outlook on life.’
It was in Malawi aged about 14 that Zaheera’s interest in midwifery was sparked as a woman living nearby gave birth then ‘got straight on with life.’ Then when she was about 17, she went to hospital to visit her aunt who’d given birth and she was drawn to how ‘caring, supportive and attentive the midwives were.’
Zaheera, who has two younger siblings, thinks growing up in a large family also influenced her career choice as her parents brought up her five aunts and uncles after her grandmother died.
She said: ‘‘My parents raised us to be strong and independent and always encouraged us with our education.
‘‘It was difficult at times being the only ethnic minority within my cohort but it was a privilege to become a midwife and I was determined to work hard. I received constant support and encouragement from my midwifery lecturers and in particular from Liz Robson’’.
Zaheera said she really enjoyed the degree’s combination of theory and practice and appreciated how much her lecturers ‘motivated her to achieve success.’
She was awarded a First in 2001 and took a short break to travel with her family. She briefly questioned if midwifery was for her but then realised that her passion for midwifery was still there.
She was approached by DMU’s then Head of Midwifery Mary Hamilton who was interested in Zaheera’s plans after completing her Midwifery degree and was taken on as a DMU Research Assistant looking at Multicultural Nursing in Leicester.
It was at this time that Professor Mark Johnson encouraged her to do a PhD, researching the Life Stories of Migrant Women, including their birthing experiences.
Zaheera also worked as a midwife at Leicester General Hospital and became a mother herself, giving birth twice during her PhD studies. She and her husband Kalim now have three children.
Zaheera said the secret was ‘never giving up’ and becoming a Doctor eight years later in 2010 made her feel ‘empowered.’ Her incredibly supportive husband and family were instrumental in her ability to achieve her Doctorate in Midwifery.
It was during her PhD that Zaheera was introduced to teaching, she said: “I was so nervous at first but realised I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Juggling teaching, midwifery practice and motherhood, life is certainly busy for Zaheera. She has been teaching at DMU since 2005 and in her current fixed-term role for two years. She also works 15 hours a week as a community midwife, based in Leicester’s Evington team.
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She said: “I’ve completely immersed myself into teaching. I enjoy that I am in a position to influence students and watch them grow.
“I share my experiences with them, show them what they can achieve and explain that as a midwife they can give a mother a positive birthing experience; their care and compassion can make so much of a difference.”
She added: “Education is such a powerful tool and I’m grateful for how many people have encouraged and motivated my journey.”
Looking to the future, Zaheera has no doubt that ‘academia is for her.’ She would now like to get more involved in research to ‘make people’s voices heard’ and to ‘ensure changes happen.’
Posted on Monday 2nd July 2018