Riz Khan has worked as a doctor for 15 years and began training to be an actor at Drama Studio London last year. Now working in the emergency department during the coronavirus pandemic and keeping up with online drama classes, he tells Giverny Masso why he thinks all doctors would benefit from acting training…
How did you get into medicine?
I spent 10 years studying medicine at Leeds University and working as an intern. Then I trained as a GP for three years. I was 29 and being a GP was very difficult. The service was underfunded, people were overwhelmed with the demand and it was causing a lot of doctors to burn out – including myself. I was seeing 40 patients a day and going home physically exhausted and emotionally drained. I had to make a tough decision, because I wasn’t very happy and it was difficult to do my job. I decided to turn freelance and work in the emergency department.
What prompted you to start acting?
When I went freelance, I decided to focus on myself and explore other aspects of my life. One of my friends said: “Why don’t you do an acting course?” and I’ve been hooked ever since. I did short courses at the Actors Centre and City Academy and I had an actor friend in Spain who was working in Spain, so I went there and did a course. I was slipping in and out, and finally, last summer, I applied for drama school. I started auditioning and got a place at Drama Studio London.
How have you found the training?
It’s been one of the best experiences in my life. It’s so intense: they say doctor training is difficult, but drama school is a whole new level. It’s inspired me, I’ve learned so much about myself. I went into acting short courses effectively blind. I was really interested but I didn’t understand it. Training has shown me the depth of acting and where I can get with it.
What is it like working during the coronavirus pandemic?
There wasn’t a moment of hesitation in my mind about going to go back to help my colleagues, so as soon as Drama Studio closed I went back to the hospital I’ve been working at. I’m managing but it’s quite stressful. The thing that’s stressful is the [shortage of] personal protective equipment. We’re not adequately protected. The support from the public has been incredible – the amount of food we’ve been given and obviously the NHS applause. People keep talking about the appreciation – it makes the job worthwhile and keeps you going.
Has acting helped you as a doctor?
Without a doubt. A lot of people think medicine and acting are at opposite ends of the career spectrum, but they’re similar, because they’re both a study of human behaviour. The skills I’ve learned being an actor, such as listening, reacting and telling a story, come into communicating with patients and being more authentic. I’d say it was the best professional development I’ve had since leaving medical school. We have yearly appraisals about what we’ve done to become better doctors and last year it was all about my acting training. It should be compulsory for all doctors to have acting training.
Training: One year diploma in professional acting at Drama Studio London (2019-20)
First professional role: Ali in Stigma, Unite Films (2020)
Agent: RedShaw Management
Riz Khan is documenting his acting journey and experiences of working as a doctor during the coronavirus pandemic on Instagram: instagram.com/doctor.riz