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Where some are destined to excel, and others are left to survive

Updated: May 5, 2023

This week's blog is written by an NHS medical colleague of mine who wishes to remain anonymous. We met through a coaching & mentoring relationship in our day jobs. My colleague's story continues to trouble me, because I know the person and am very sad that they have been denied opportunities. I also know that my colleague's story is not isolated. It's systemic both within the NHS and outwith, within the medical profession and outwith, within the UK and outwith. I hope that reading this personal account helps others to take notice and really examine our pervasive biases (that can be either conscious or sub-conscious or unconscious) that span intersectional characteristics. It might be a combination of gender; race; sexuality; age; socio-economic status; physical, mental or cognitive health concerns; or a number of other things that make people feel isolated or marginalised.

a photograph of lots of hands overlapping, palms facing upwards. Every hand has a different coloured skin tone

"As we celebrate international women’s day once again, I am faced with reality of #inequality that continues to exist in our modern 21st century society. True, we have come a long way: yes the suffragettes changed the course of history for women, Dr Martin Luther King become a heard voice leading on the procession to equality for black people and Marsha Johnson stood tall for LGBT celebration and inclusion. However, in Mach 2022, despite the changes that have taken place over the last 60-100 years, I find myself as a disadvantaged black woman in comparison to my white peers working within the National Health Service. Why, you might ask when the world appears so much more tolerant. The reason lies in subconscious discrimination, microaggression and a western society that continues to prefer “people who look and think like them”.

As a trainee doctor, I had aspiration of greatness. I bounced into medical school, full of enthusiasm, drive and a real passion to make a difference to patients and society. Unfortunately, I quickly encountered the tier system that exists in the medical world, where some are destined to excel, and others are left to survive. Those struggling were always the #marginalised in society, often, non-white colleagues. This was even more pronounced in the migrant community.

Despite the challenges I faced, I worked hard, passed my exams with distinctions, and continued my mission to contribute to the medical field. Yet, I was never able to reach a position where I could potentially be a real contender in the race. Always told despite being “good”, I was never “good enough”. And when I asked why this was the case, calmly and with a straight face, given “constructive feedback” of “there was someone better on the day” – without fail this was always a white colleague!

As my career journey continued, the obstacles became tougher and the hurdles higher due to intersectionality - my gender and the colour of my skin. It is now clear to me why I, and other black female doctors, have few role models in the NHS:

  • The roads to success are blocked for us

  • Diversions are put in place

  • We are forced out of the running due to pervasive racial disparities and inequalities

  • We are not supported to specialise

  • We are discouraged to apply to academic institutes

  • We have no sponsorship, mentoring or coaching to support us in becoming leaders

  • We are not represented in academic institutions

  • We are not represented in professional boards.

Like Dr King, I have a dream; a vision of deep-seated equality which transects race, gender, sexuality, and religion. A vision where subconscious bias, white privilege and microaggression are terms taught in history lessons and not applicable to a modern society."

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