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Graduations 2022: University honours leading GP at heart of COVID vaccine roll-out

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Published on 01 December 2022

Dr Nikita Kanani
Dr Nikita Kanani

From her early career as a GP in south-east London, to becoming the first woman appointed as NHS England’s Medical Director of Primary Care in 2018, as well as its youngest at age 37 - Dr Nikita Kanani then became a familiar fixture on our TV screens during the COVID-19 pandemic, appearing alongside the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, offering support and advice as deputy lead for the NHS's vaccination programme.

This week, alongside her MBE for services to Primary Care she received in 2017, Nikita can now include an Honorary Doctorate of Medicine from the University of Sunderland, awarded during our winter graduation ceremonies. 

Receiving the award was also something of a homecoming for Nikita and her family, as it was Sunderland’s School of Pharmacy which first brought Nikita’s father Jagdishbhai, a Ugandan refugee, and her mum Keerti, together as young pharmacy students in the 1970s, when the University was still a polytechnic. The pair married before setting up a community pharmacy in Croydon in 1980, the same year Nikita was born. 

Nikita, who also accepted a role as a Visiting Professor to the University’s School of Medicine, said: “It is an incredible honour to receive this award and come back to the university where your parents studied and met. Mum and dad spoke so fondly of coming here to study and made lifelong friends.

“Sunderland gave my parents their energy and drive, and that has given me my love of medicine. To receive this award means so much. I’m also delighted to become a Visiting Professor, it means I can give back to the local community here in Sunderland, which is part of my drive and passion.”

Nikita’s impressive CV is defined by the common thread that’s wound across all her roles, to improve life for others. This includes a passion to empower girls and young women from disadvantaged backgrounds to study subjects in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine, and access mentoring and coaching opportunities through STEMMsisters, the social enterprise Nikita and her sister Sheila, an astrophysicist, set up 10 years ago. 

Today, Nikita is Director of Clinical Integration for NHS England, she continues her key role on the NHS COVID-19 Vaccination Programme, promoting the vaccine uptake among minority groups. The work is done alongside her responsibilities as a local GP in Lewisham.