MWF Katherine Branson Prize Entries



MWF Katherine Branson Prize Entries

This year, the MWF Katherine Branson Essay Prize had an outstanding level of entries from medical students across the country. We have chosen to feature all entries on our website as they are all written to a very high standard.

Here are some entries on the essay title: 

Women are advancing in the workforce, yet unique challenges are faced by various communities. What are the challenges faced by women of colour and how can we tackle these?

Entry 1: Written by Safia Khan

The Hyperinvisible Woman

You sip orange juice from a wine glass. You wait for the your Tutor to ask you about your hometown, like she did your peers. It is your first week in medical school and you are the only woman of colour in the room. Finally, she turns to you: ah, you must be our token Asian. When you tell the story during freshers’ week, your white friends laugh. Your Mum doesn’t find it funny when you tell her on the phone. You realise you don’t either.

I understand this experience as the ‘hypervisibility phenomenon’. Women of colour (woc) are at once hypervisible, perceived solely in terms of their race and/or gender, yet simultaneously invisible, made to feel overlooked or ignored. Hyperinvisibility underlies many of the challenges woc face in healthcare settings, as both professionals and patients.

Hyperinvisibility means that woc in healthcare professions are often viewed through the lens of stereotypes. To avoid the ‘angry black/brown woman’ trope, woc in the NHS are less likely to report bullying, despite being more likely to experience it, out of fear of being perceived as difficult1. There exists a desire not to draw attention to oneself, because the reality is that attention as a woc will be negative: doctors of colour are twice as likely to be referred to the GMC for disciplinary action than white doctors2. Woc being looked upon unfavourably coincides with being routinely overlooked. Despite being over-represented in lower pay bands, BAME staff in the NHS are seriously under-represented at higher grades, with just 6.5% at a very senior level3. Even if woc want to be considered for these leadership roles, they are less likely to be perceived as having the relevant attributes4. Upon securing these positions, woc more often contend with imposter syndrome5, questioning whether they were selected on merit or to fulfil a diversity quota. Hyperinvisibility may also underlie woc having the highest rates of workplace harassment6, which occurs more frequently in the NHS among lower-paid positions7. Sexual harassment is its natural consequence: woc are fetishized to the point that their humanity becomes invisible. This medical tradition of dehumanising black and brown women can be traced to the ‘father of gynaecology’, who pioneered his surgical techniques by experimenting on black women without consent or anaesthesia8.

Hyperinvisibility not only burdens woc as healthcare professionals, but also as patients. South Asians reportedly have the worst health in the UK9, with the highest rates of mortality following hospitalisation from COVID10. Despite this, South Asian women may be informally diagnosed with ‘Mrs Begum’ or ‘Bibi syndrome’11 – presumed hypochondriacs by their clinicians, these patients are judged according to a trope that they exaggerate their suffering. On the other hand, black women are more likely to be perceived as having a higher pain threshold, with one study reporting that 40% of medical trainees believe black patients have thicker skin and less sensitive nerve endings12. This dismissal of chronic pain could at least partially explain the underdiagnosis of endometriosis in black women13. Misdiagnosis is compounded by diagnostic tools that fail to consider this population in their design: hypoxaemia in black patients was almost three times more likely to go undetected by pulse oximetry compared with white patients14. Even if patients are accurately diagnosed, interventions may be less effective as woc are underrepresented in clinical trials15. This manifests as a healthcare system in which black women to be five times more likely than white women to die as a result of complications in their pregnancy16.

The solution to hyperinvisibility in healthcare requires investigation, diagnosis and an effective management plan. Practical measures to lessen the burden of hyperinvisibility need to go beyond claiming colour-blindness or one-off implicit bias training. We need to dismantle the structures that permit institutional discrimination against woc. This begins with:  

  • Inclusion of woc in clinical trials in keeping with their proportion in the general population, adjusting this appropriately for diseases where woc experience the burden of higher prevalence or poorer outcomes.
  • Increased opportunities for leadership – woc do not need to be spoken for, but instead given the platform to speak for themselves.
  • Training doctors to confront their biases from early on: social and racial determinants of health should feature in medical school curricula and throughout medical training pathways.
  • Continuing to empower patients and professionals to speak up and share their stories. A world without racial inequality will only arrive when we have the courage to create it.

I considered how to reclaim my power after being termed the ‘token Asian’. When my dad took me to the funfair as a child, we needed tokens to get on rides. Today, I own my status as a token: the world needs tokens like me to rise to the top of the Ferris wheel and see a brighter, broader horizon is possible.



  1. Perspectives from the front line | NHS Confederation. (n.d.). Retrieved March 6, 2022, from
  2. Atewologun, D., Kline, R., Ochieng, M., (2019). FAIR TO REFER? Retrieved March 6, 2022, from
  4. Schein, V. E. (1973). The relationship between sex role stereotypes and requisite management characteristics. Journal of Applied Psychology, 57(2), 95–100.
  5. Chrousos, G. P., & Mentis, A. F. (2020). Imposter syndrome threatens diversity. Science, 367(6479), 749–750.
  6. Cassino, D., & Besen-Cassino, Y. (2019). Race, threat and workplace sexual harassment: The dynamics of harassment in the United States, 1997–2016. Gender, Work and Organization, 26(9), 1221–1240.
  7. It’s Never Ok: a report on sexual harassment against healthcare staff. (n.d.). Retrieved March 6, 2022, from - :~:text=Survey reveals sexual harassment in,by UNISON today (Thursday).&text=Acts of sexual harassment were,committed by colleagues (54%25)
  8. Medical Exploitation of Black Women. (n.d.). Retrieved March 6, 2022, from
  9. Stopforth, S., Kapadia, D., Nazroo, J., & Bécares, L. (2021). Ethnic inequalities in health in later life, 1993–2017: the persistence of health disadvantage over more than two decades. Ageing & Society, 1–29.
  10. Harrison, E. M., Docherty, A. B., Barr, B., Buchan, I., Carson, G., Drake, T. M., Dunning, J., Fairfield, C. J., Gamble, C., Green, C. A., Griffiths, C., Halpin, S., Hardwick, H. E., Ho, A., Holden, K. A., Hollinghurst, J., Horby, P. W., Jackson, C., Katikireddi, S. V., … Investigators, I. (2020). Ethnicity and Outcomes from COVID-19: The ISARIC CCP-UK Prospective Observational Cohort Study of Hospitalised Patients. SSRN Electronic Journal.
  11. South Asian women suffering due to racist “Mrs Begum” stereotype from being laughed at by GP for trying to speak English to nearly dying of sepsis - MyLondon. (n.d.). Retrieved March 6, 2022, from
  12. Hoffman, K. M., Trawalter, S., Axt, J. R., & Oliver, M. N. (2016). Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(16), 4296–4301.
  13. Farland, L. v., & Horne, A. W. (2019). Disparity in endometriosis diagnoses between racial/ethnic groups. Bjog, 126(9), 1115.
  14. Sjoding, M. W., Dickson, R. P., Iwashyna, T. J., Gay, S. E., & Valley, T. S. (2020). Racial Bias in Pulse Oximetry Measurement. New England Journal of Medicine, 383(25), 2477–2478.
  15. Artiga, S., Kates, J., Michaud, J., & Hill L. (n.d.). Racial Diversity within COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trials: Key Questions and Answers | KFF. Retrieved March 6, 2022, from

Knight, M. (2019). Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care Maternal, Newborn and Infant Clinical Outcome Review Programme. Retrieved March 6, 2022

Entry 2 : Written by Cressida Appleton


Women suffer an array of disadvantages in the workplace. These include stereotyping, being denied the same opportunities as men, gender pay gaps, and direct sexual harassment or abuse. Women of colour suffer these, and more, from microaggressions and unconscious bias to outright racial abuse. This intersectionality of race and gender means BAME women face compounded discrimination. This is often described as a Concrete Ceiling. White women may face a Glass Ceiling, being able to see opportunities but not able to access them. Women of colour may not even be able to see the opportunities. Significant contributory factors are the lack of ethnic minority women being promoted to positions of power, and structural racism within the workplace.


Women of colour are under-represented at every level, from healthcare settings where plasters are the “skin-colour” of white people, to white-male dominated boardrooms. This can exaggerate women’s sense of imposter syndrome: seeing no one who looks like you can make you feel like you don’t belong. This can push people to work twice as hard to prove themselves, which is both mentally and physically exhausting. The sense of marginalisation adds to this psychological burden. If leadership continues to be white-male dominated, naturally, policies that benefit this group will be upheld (Rattani, 2021). This creates a perpetuating cycle, as the lack of
successful role-models is a deterrent for younger women. Current leaders need to look beyond their own social circles to enable the development of future leaders drawn from all talent pools who are representative of the people they serve. Personal potential should be considered alongside competency to negate for past inequalities. Those in senior pos itionsshould be held accountable for this. (Saxena, 2022) (Khosroshahi, 2021)

Reporting systems
When someone experiences racial abuse in the workplace, the response procedure must not only deal with the incident but also try to prevent recurrence. This should combine sanctions for the aggressor with emotional support for the victim. Unfortunately, the culture of many workplaces prevents people from speaking out against racism. This could stem from fear of upsetting their perpetrators- ‘white fragility’- or jeopardising career prospects (Ikpoh, 2020). For this to be eradicated, it is the responsibility of those more senior to create an environment where people feel comfortable coming forward with their stories, and confident that their testimonies will be heard and believed. This can be achieved by normalising open conversations surrounding race and gender, and demonstrating how the organisation is striving to achieve greater inclusivity.

Tackling these challenges
There is a difference between not being racist and being actively anti-racist. The former promotes complacency and will not achieve any significant change. The latter requires an
active commitment to be anti-racist every day, which means being vocal about discrimination wherever it presents, as well as listening and learning. It is everyone’s responsibility to address any unconscious bias they may have. On a structural level, formal anti-racist policies must be put in place. White colleagues can be helped to understand the manifestations of their privilege and equipped with the tools to identify and report racial abuse. Organisations should offer a safe and atraumatic way of reporting discriminatory events, and provide any support needed to deal with the aftermath of such experiences. They also have a duty to educate their white or white-passing staff on how to be an active bystander and effective ally. Employers can further advance their allyship by improving theirhiring policies and reporting systems, as explored above (Charlot, 2020).

Despite advances, women of colour continue to suffer because of racism and sexism in the workplace. Whilst every individual can make a commitment to fighting discrimination, tackling structural inequalities is a responsibility that lies with those who have the power to change them. Employers must ask themselves if they are doing enough to promote a culture of inclusivity, with adequate reporting systems and fair hiring policies. Individuals must unlearn their unconscious biases and be anti-racist. These changes are paramount t0 creating a working environment that treats everyone, particularly women of colour, with the empathy, dignity, and respect they deserve.

CHARLOT, M. 2020. Power in Our Hands: Addressing Racism in the Workplace. Journal ofclinical oncology, 38, 4118-4119.
IKPOH, M. 2020. Broken mirrors: a trainee's experience of racism in the workplace. BJGPopen, 4.
KHOSROSHAHI, H. 2021. The Concrete Ceiling. Stanford Social Innovation Review.
RATTANI, A. 2021. Interpersonal Racism in the Healthcare Workplace: Examining Insidious
Collegial Interactions Reinforcing Structural Racism. The Journal of law, medicine & ethics, 49, 307-314.
SAXENA, A. 2022. Women Of Colour In The Workplace.

Entry 3: Written by Toni Oduwole

“You’ve got to be twice as good to get half as far” -Michelle Obama (1)

The dangerous combination of misogyny and racism impacts the experience of women of colour in the workplace. The commonly quoted statement that as a woman of colour you must be ‘twice as good’ to get what you want is one that holds unfortunate truth when trying to navigate a career. In this essay I will discuss some of the challenges faced by women of colour at work and how these can potentially be tackled.

Although women are advancing in the workforce, women of colour are underrepresented in senior roles despite their ambition to progress. (2-4) Women accounted for just eight of the CEOs of the UK’s 100 largest companies in 2021, as listed in the FTSE 100, and none were women of colour. (5) Similarly in healthcare, minority ethnic groups are less likely to progress to top roles; 3.4% of junior doctors are Chinese and 7.1% are Black however this reduces to only 1.9% and 3.6% respectively at senior level. (6) A major challenge is the lack of mentorship and support in the workplace. (3) Being able to relate to a mentor and gain career advice is a privilege often missed out on by women of colour due to the absence of role models and a discomfort of white senior members to reach out. Overlooking women of colour for promotion because of stereotypes about their leadership style, for example the ‘angry black woman’ trope could be another factor as to why there is such stagnation of women of colour in the workplace. Not only does the lack of promotion cause self-confidence issues and decreased morale, but also translates to increased ethnicity pay gap. (7)

Imposter Syndrome is an important challenge that women of colour may face at work, and this distress negatively impacts creativity and career outcomes. (8) The concept was developed by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 to explain why high achieving women may feel intellectually inadequate despite their qualifications or unduly attribute their success to external factors. (9) Minority ethnic groups are likely to suffer with the syndrome as a result of internalised racist ideas and self-doubt brought on by a lack of representation. (10) Not only can Imposter Syndrome lead to isolation that will no doubt impact upon mental health, but it also means the employee is disconnected from social circles at work and therefore cut-off from networking opportunities. Microaggressions such as surprise about competence of women of colour, unsolicited assumptions regarding their seniority and racist ‘banter’, which may seem insignificant alone, add to the overall feeling of not belonging. 

There has been a recent push to tackle the challenges faced by women of colour in the workplace, especially following the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. For example, EY committed to a proportional promotion process whereby they advance employees on a representative basis according to diversity at the given level. (11) However, this is a double-edged sword because the stereotype that minority ethnic groups only gain promotions because of diversity quotas rather than their talent can exacerbate anxiety and Imposter Syndrome. Some organisations have adopted flawed approaches to improve diversity for instance, tokenism in which a performative effort is made to appear inclusive by hiring a few people from minority groups. Tokenism is harmful to self-identity as being one of the only people of your race brings the pressure to fit in yet also the unfair view that you represent an entire group. The interest to increase diversity and participate in outreach may be a personal obligation for women of colour. A study conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey showed that Black women are 50% more likely than men to say they are motivated by a desire to be role models for others like them. (12) Although the enthusiasm is warranted, it is an added commitment to balance alongside the normal stresses of work.

The mantra that as a woman of colour you must be twice as good to progress at work creates a sense of constant battle against a system not built for you. More must be done to address the intersectionality of race and gender so that approaches tackle the specific challenges women of colour face. The BLM movement has played an important role in urging companies to make long overdue changes and so supporting BLM initiatives and continued allyship is essential in my opinion. A change in hiring practice and highlighting implicit biases through compulsory equality, diversity, and inclusion training will help address the systemic discrimination. Also, recognising that although women of colour are often grouped together, they are not a homogenous group and should be treated in different categories to ensure their unique challenges are tackled.


  1. Obama M. Becoming. 2018
  2. The Colour of Power [Internet] 2020 [cited 5 March 2022]. Available from:
  3. Women in the Workplace 2019 [Internet] LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company. 2019 [cited 5 March 2022]. Available from:
  4. The Prince's Responsible Business Network. Race at Work: 2015. 2015
  5. Kaur S. Sex & Power 2020, The Fawcett Society. 2020.
  6. NHS workforce- Ethnicity facts and figures [Internet] 2021 [cited 5 March 2022] Available from: Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.
  7. Ethnicity pay gaps - Office for National Statistics. [Internet] 2019 [cited 5 March 2022] Available from:
  8. Hudson S, González-Gómez H. Can impostors thrive at work? The impostor phenomenon's role in work and career outcomes. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 2021; 128: 103601
  9. Clance P, Imes S. The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice. 1978; 15(3), 241– 247
  10. Peters K, Ryan M, Haslam S, Fernandes H. To belong or not to belong. Journal of Personnel Psychology. 2012; 11(3) 148–158.
  11. McGregor-Smith R. Race in the workplace: The McGregor- Smith review. 2017
  12. Women in the Workplace 2018 [Internet] LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company. 2018 [cited 5 March 2022]. Available from:


Entry 4: Written by Anjana Kumar

Women of colour (WOC) face a nuanced subset of unconscious biases, microaggressions and discrimination by being at the intersection of being a woman and a person of colour (POC). They navigate a highly complicated web of systemic racial and gender inequality that have been woven into society.(1,2)In today’s society, there is no room for discrimination, we should change the workplace to become inclusive.

WOC are underrepresented in leadership and face more microaggressions than other marginalised groups. Having to “work twice as hard to get half the way” is a common sentiment.(1) Since applying to medical school, I was made to feel I had nothing to differentiate me from every other Asian girl. To this day I feel my motivations being questioned; “did your parents pressure you into medicine?” - a question my white colleagues are never faced with, despite the ones from generational medical families feeling far more pressure than I ever did.

Aside from microaggressions, WOC also face blatant racism. Once during placement, the SHO asked a patient if I could examine her, she replied “I don’t want a coloured one touching me.” Resulting in him asking me to leave, which made me feel I wasbeing too sensitive and should just deal with it– a pervasive narrative in previous generations. Despite the zero-tolerance policy, no one thought it was worth reporting.(3)This incident troubled me deeply until my personal tutor said that it was unacceptable and stood up for me. The following year, the university created a support system for students who experience discrimination.

This highlights how non-WOC need to be allies, actively advocating for change at an institutional level to promote inclusion. A robust system used to report incidents should be established with safe spaces and platforms for marginalized groups to share their experiences, raise issues and discuss privilege and intersectionality.(2) Management should ensure WOC are supported and fulfilled; take accountability and establish a work culture that sees differences as ‘complete and representative’.

The ‘leaky pipeline’ describes how WOC lose representation at every level due to inequitable promotions; with representation falling by 91.4% from support-stafflevel to the C-suite.1 In the NHS, only 7.4% of senior management are POC, which is far below the proportion of POC workers.4 The NHS Trust boards also underrepresent POC; in London, where 45% of the population is POC, only 16% of the board members are POC.(5,6) Senior NHS roles such as CFO and medical-directors underrepresent women, despite 77% of the NHS workforce being women, they only hold 25% of these positions.(7)

There are no statistics on WOC, but it’s probable they would be the worst affected. Being the ‘only’ woman or POC makes someone stand out and welcomes bias, scrutiny and pressure. WOC are often the only person representing both groups, causing burnout and staff attrition.(1,2) Many WOC in senior roles accept the narrative that WOC need to be more resilient and accept the uncomfortable environment to progress. Implying that climbing the ladder is ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ and there are a limited number of positions for WOC, pitting WOC against each other and labelling those who burnout as ‘weak’.

The book ‘Flatlining’ discusses the minority tax: where institutions seek out WOC to lead ‘equity work’, which takes time away from their primary activities that aid career progression.(8) However, due to the scarcity of WOC in those positions, they get overburdened with these activities, which often lack compensation, support and recognition. This can cause guilt for declining equity work and add to burnout. This vicious cycle of burnout and attrition leads to less WOC in senior roles, loss of representation, causing increased pressure on the few remaining WOC to do equity work.(9)

In diversity metrics, companies overlook WOC, they should track the hiring and promotion rate of WOC to determine if it is comparable to other groups.(1,2) Institutions need to promote WOC more and change the attitude to the word ‘diversity’, which has become a buzzword used as a blanket for companies to hide under, instead of taking active action.(10) Many institutions state diversity as a priority, yet do not take steps to ensure it is a tangible goal. With most initiatives failing, companies need to be held accountable.(1) Moreover, institutions need to acknowledge the minority tax and take steps to mitigate this: by providing support for ‘equity work’ and training non-WOC to support and mentor WOC.(9)

Representation is not an administrative checkbox, it brings value: people from dissimilar backgrounds develop more creative and effective solutions to problems, especially with health inequalities.(11,12,13)

Although astronomical progress has been made in the past few decades, there is still a need to change the inbuilt culture within institutions. It is everyone’s responsibility to challenge biases, inequity and discrimination and ensure that the voices of marginalized groups, such as WOC, are elevated and getting the opportunities they deserve.(3)

1. McKinsey, 2022. Women in the Workplace 2021. [online] Available at: < the-workplace>
2. FairyGodBoss. 2021 Report: More Women Of Color Are Ready To Leave The Workforce. [online] Available at: < of-color-are-leaving-the-workplace/?utm_source=forbespress
3. GOV.UK. 2018. Stronger protection from violence for NHS staff. [online] Available at: <>
4. 2021. NHS workforce. [online] Available at: <>
5. 2021. NHS Trust Board Membership. [online] Available at: < <
6. Kline, R., 2014. The “snowy white peaks” of the NHS: a survey of discrimination in governance and leadership and the potential impact on patient care in London and England. Middlesex University Research. Available at: <>
7. Sealy, R., 2017. NHS Women on Boards: 50:50 by 2020. [online] Available at:<>
8. Wingfield, A. Flatlining (book). 1st Edition. University of California Press. 2019.
9. Carson, T., Aguilera, A., Brown, S., Peña, J., Butler, A., Dulin, A., Jonassaint, C., Riley, I., Vanderbom, K., Molina, K. and Cené, C., 2019. A Seat at the Table. Academic Medicine, 94(8), pp.1089-1093.
10. Asare, J., 2020. Has Diversity Become A Dirty Word?. [online] Forbes. Available at:<>
11. Hong, L. and Page, S., 2004. Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperformgroups of high-ability problem solvers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(46), pp.16385-16389.
12. Dovidio, J.F. Eggly, Susan & Albrecht, Terrance & Hagiwara, Nao & Penner, L.A..(2016). Racial biases in medicine and healthcare disparities. 23. 489-510.10.4473/TPM23.4.5.4
13. 2017. Breaking Down Barriers for Women Physicians of Color.[online] Available at: <>


logo 1