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Black History Month: Sharing my medical journey

For Black History Month, Dr Yvette Adjei-Gyamfi shares her medical journey and personal experience working as a Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) doctor in the NHS.

Born to first-generation Ghanaian parents, I grew up in multicultural Newham, East London. My journey to becoming a doctor started in 2001 at St George's Hospital Medical School, where I was surrounded by fellow students from all walks of life and racial backgrounds.

As a radiology trainee in inner London, I never felt as though I was among a minority among my colleagues or patients. I feel I’ve been more aware of my race and the impact of being a black female doctor as a consultant than I ever have been, throughout my whole career. For example, often one is painted as having an aggressive brash nature without actually being that way.

This I believe can be partly attributed to the fact that I now work in an area of the UK in Essex where I am among the minority, with black people making up only 1.4% of the total population. I most definitely am aware of this reality, both among my colleagues and patients daily.

Mutual solidarity

Up until recently, I was the single black female consultant of a total of 189 in the whole hospital. Last year I was joined by a second black consultant, whom I casually met on the stairwell one day and immediately felt it necessary that I introduce myself and welcome her. The sense of mutual solidarity was felt instantly.

It is the small things such as always being listed or called 'Dr Yvette' on waiting room boards because my surname 'just takes too long to write out or is complicated to pronounce' that leave lasting feelings of alienation.

I have had various instances which I strongly believe were influenced by the colour of my skin. In the earlier days of starting my substantive post, I was constantly being referred to as the 'technician' by patients. Despite always introducing myself as 'Dr', my title never seemed to be acknowledged, yet my assistant (RSO/HCA) was always referred to as the 'lovely nurse'.

On one occasion, on my approach to my clinic, I heard an elderly man who was accompanying his friend to the appointment make mention of the fact he was 'about to have some black magic done' to him! Loud and clear for me to hear. On another, I was told by a patient that I 'couldn't get sunburnt because of the colour of my skin'.

Despite being 'born and bred' in London, I was once told that I couldn't be understood, and my Polish assistant needed to translate to the patient on my behalf. These are just a few instances.

I believe much of my experiences stem from a genuine lack of knowledge and education. With the increasing presence of fellow black doctors and awareness, they will hopefully become less of an occurrence.

Strive to be recognised

This is the advice I would give to fellow black doctors working in the NHS – not to be deterred by such experiences but rather always strive to be recognised for your provision and contribution towards patient care and working as a valuable member of the team.

Let us be known for our excellence and not the colour of our skin.