The usual path of getting into medical school wasn’t the one destined for me. After getting rejected from all the universities I applied to for medicine the first-time round, I decided to take a gap year and try again. I can now proudly say it was the best decision I have ever made and now study at University College London (UCL).
Within university, I am the Welfare and Volunteering Officer of the African and Caribbean Society Committee for 2019/2020. The welfare of others and myself are of great importance to me and being an active member in bettering the wider community is something I have great passion for. I also enjoy athletics and have an ever-growing interest in the fashion industry.
Improving outcomes: for medics from BME backgrounds” Katherine Woolf, pages 9-11, Medical Women Volume 38: Issue 1 Spring/Summer 2019
Black and minority ethnic (BME) medics face discrimination and significant barriers.
Female medics face discrimination and significant barriers.
Black, female medics face discrimination and significant barriers.
How must it feel to be all and feel it from all sides?
The following will explore the experience of one who embodies the two.
After attending the Medical Women’s Federation (MWF) Juniors Conference it was proposed to us, medical students and junior doctors, to express what we felt needed to be prioritised within the federation to better our medical experience from the point of entry to the very end. Creative and innovative ideas were presented, however being one of two black women there, I knew it was going to be an “if not me, then who?” moment; a moment that those who identify as part of the BME group know too well. It is a moment where you are placed as the one and only representative of your race as you know no one else is going to speak on a struggle that they do not feel or experience on a regular basis. The weight of the socio-political issues regarding race are placed upon you. Now, if you are an individual who feels they are not well spoken and wouldn’t necessarily know how to cope in the face of confrontation to your opinions then speaking in a room full of strangers about race (a topic that seems so taboo and is regularly ignored) probably isn’t something you would want to do. But, again, if not me, then who?
So, it is the first day of medical school and walking into your lecture theatre you see a cohort of 350 medical students, half are women and a number you could count on two hands are people that look just like you. Upsetting as it sounds, this is not something I am alien to. In an article written by Katherine Woolf for MWF on improving outcomes for BME medics, she discusses how one’s learning environment is considered to be a cause of differential attainment and can affect the way in which we learn. If the learning environment and teaching material is tailored in a way that shines a negative light on your ethnic group in the clinical setting it can subconsciously make you feel that your race is a cause of negativity to medicine, for example the instant association of Afro-Caribbean patients with sickle cell anaemia and that it has a very negative impact on their life when in fact many people with sickle cell anaemia live happy and healthy lives. This also raises the issue of only using BME patients when the fact that the patient is from a BME group is the main learning point.
From personal experience, I can say that it is often the case that BME students feel they have to prove themselves, especially in medicine as we are so few and as we tend to form social groups with ourselves, differences then become enlarged. Imposter syndrome is a recurring theme in many BME students. The need to ‘prove yourself’ most probably stems from upbringing; you do not want to be like the norm or stereotype that is embedded into our surroundings and social system that those of colour do not often attain to anything. An innate desire to break out of the box that you are put in just because of the colour of your skin. However, within this ‘proving yourself’, you are left thinking: who am I even proving myself to?
I believe one of the main issues is that the racial discrimination, stereotyping and differential attainment in medicine is well known by larger organisations, however, little is actively being done to aid and overcome said issues. BME medical students and doctors have now taken the initiative to create organisations in order to tackle the struggles that BME prospective and current medical students face and form a community. From speaking to two organisations, I was able to gain a greater insight into what they feel are the main focuses of their creation. Melanin Medics founder, Olamide Dada, says that the organisation is dedicated to supporting the community of African-Caribbean medics and focuses on implementing positive solutions which will help to overcome underrepresentation and socio-economic barriers in Medicine. She believes it is about bridging the gap and ensuring that each and every individual feels valued and knows there are people advocating for you and your representation in medicine. Melanin Medics provides a platform that allows those from BME backgrounds to learn from one another’s experiences in order to bring about change, celebrate achievements and bring the African-Caribbean Medical students and professional community together. Modern Day Medics co-founder, Bimpe Adeyemi, spoke on their aim to encourage prospective students from BME backgrounds to reach their potential and inspire current medical students to thrive in their career. They feel that there is a need to empower young people by providing them with the knowledge, support and representation which will allow them to flourish in the medical field.
As both organisations spoke on representation, you can see that it is and will always be a priority in the BME community. As the saying goes ‘you cannot be what you do not see’, so more needs to be done for black medics, female medics and those that intersect both to be represented on a platform that is known in order to have a great effect. Community outreach, more conferences and invitations to speak at large organisation meetings on the subjects that are deemed uncomfortable, but is unfortunately our reality, is what will get the conversation going and encourage those looking from the outside in to understand why we are so passionate and take action into breaking down our barriers. The support and partnerships are needed from everyone in order to move forward and continue in this direction.
The achievements, events, mentorship schemes etc of both organisations are inspiring and remarkable, however, the fact there is a need for them is a problem in itself. The institutional racism that is prevalent in this country and education system has driven us to form organisations because there is a collective feeling of underrepresentation and lack of active aid from those who issue the facts and figures of the struggles BME groups face.
The socio-economic issues that BME groups face on a day to day basis has now seeped into the medical field, one that should specifically have no place for ignorance and discrimination. Stepping into a field that is white-male dominated and being the exact opposite can have you questioning whether you are where you are meant to be. And for this reason education on these matters, more diversity, regular and open discussions, outreach to the younger generation and many other active innovations need to be taken as it is clear that there are significant barriers to success as a black medic and also a woman. It is felt from all sides, which is a challenge. But one we will overcome.