Shera Chok (second from right) with members of the Shuri Network at the launch in 2019Shera Chok (second from right) with members of the Shuri Network at the launch in 2019

Diversity and Digital Health Care: The Shuri Network

Sciana Network member Shera Chok is carving out a platform for women from minority backgrounds in the UK’s National Health Service

Shera Chok was on a bus in the east of London one morning in 2015 when a Somali woman seated opposite her leaned across, gestured to the teenage girl beside her, and said “Dr Chok, the last time you saw my daughter, she was in my tummy.”

Chok is a busy woman. Besides her role as a general practitioner (GP) in Tower Hamlets, London, she is also the deputy chief medical officer at NHS Digital, and national clinical advisor, system transformation at NHS England and NHS Improvement, and most recently, co-founder and chair of the Shuri Network. For Chok, the bus interaction highlighted how brief interactions with patients leave lasting impressions.

“The fact that she remembered the impact I had on her 15 years prior really got to my heart because that’s the impact we can have as health professionals on patients we might only see 2-3 times for ten minutes,” she told Salzburg Global Seminar. “The impact we can have on our communities is huge, but we need to support our staff to do that well.” 

Born in Leeds and growing up between Malaysia and the UK, Chok has been in practice as a medical doctor since 1993. She also holds an MBA, and an MSc in interprofessional education. Her days are filled with work that she is passionate about, and she has worked hard to upskill herself to ensure she builds and sustains equitable systems in health care in the UK. “I am driven to solving problems and trying to help NHS staff do our jobs,” she says. “How do we get pathways more seamless for patients and staff?”

And supporting and upskilling NHS staff – in particular, women of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) backgrounds – is the main aim of the recently launched Shuri Network.

Piloted in 2019 after Chok’s participation in Sciana: The Health Leaders Network at Salzburg Global Seminar, the Shuri Network has grown to 1000 members in 2021, offered bursaries to 25 women to further their careers, launched the first digital shadowing program in the NHS, and provided them with a national platform to share their contribution to digital transformation, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis. Through showcasing the potential, skills and efforts of women of color in health care and championing them and their efforts and actively putting conversations around diversity on the table, the Shuri Network is changing the perception of what a digital health leader looks and sounds like. 

Chok credits Sciana with helping to launch the initiative: “Discussions with [Sciana Chair] Ilona Kickbusch, [chief executive of the Health Foundation (a Sciana funder)] Jennifer Dixon, [Salzburg Global program consultant] John Lotherington and Sciana participants helped to distil the aims and objectives of the Network,” she explains.

Troubleshooting, addressing inequalities, and “seeing for herself what was happening rather than reading about it in the press” are the top three reasons Chok cites for why she chooses to engage in such diverse areas of work. While most of her work has been in London – particularly around the Tower Hamlets area, a diverse part of the city which features a high number of people from all over the world – she has also taken time out at points in her career to assist NGOs in disaster areas across the world. Chok has worked in Darfur, Sudan with patients displaced by fighting in the region, taught medicine at a paediatric department in the Southeast Asian country of Laos, and assisted with relief efforts in Indonesia following the 2004 tsunami. Most recently, she worked at refugee camps on the Greek island of Lesbos. She recounts each experience as “life-changing.”

“Medicine lets you do that, if you want to. Working in disaster areas gives you an appreciation of what we have in our lives, and how quickly that can be stripped away,” she said. Passionate about building sustainable systems, Chok advises that women of color need to “build your own personal board of directors.” As her own example demonstrates, she is a strong advocate of the ideal that as women ascend in their careers, they should remember to uplift others like them. 

And with conversations centered on race currently so topical, initiatives such as the Shuri Network hope to sustain them. Improving patient safety and experience, digital transformation and innovation, and diversity and inclusion are the three key things at the heart of network. And Chok believes the time has come for moves to be made beyond talking about them. “There has been a lot of data collected, so we know there is inequality, we know that there is a lot of discrimination (in the UK)”, she says. 

“Now is the time to take action. We have got enough data.”

To find out more about the Shuri Network, please visit: www.shurinetwork.com  


Established in April 2017, Sciana: The Health Leaders Network is supported by an international partnership between the Health Foundation (UK), Careum Stiftung (Switzerland) and the Robert Bosch Stiftung (Germany) in collaboration with Salzburg Global Seminar.

By:Aaisha Dadi Patel
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