Diversity in Healthcare

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Before I descend into chaotic gripes about lack of diversity, its important that I create context. I graduated from Medical School in the UK in 2009, and have since trained in London to become an Orthopaedic Surgeon. Medicine in the UK quite rightly has always been competitive to entry and for some remains the pinnacle of achievement, and like many I set off on this path determined to overcome the odds, and be one of the final few still standing.

At medical school I was one of 3 people of colour in my graduating year, but honestly never felt marginalised or disadvantaged at all. I spent a short time as a sub-I at Yale in US just prior to graduating and this was a truly life changing experience. I witnessed excellence and the culmination of dedication and commitment, and it knew no colour. The campus and medical school was extremely diverse. I met inspiring people from all racial backgrounds. I returned to the UK with a pep in my step, a fire in my belly and a passion to succeed.

When I decided I wanted to be a surgeon, it suddenly became obvious to me that I did not look or sound like any of the great surgeons I looked up to. For a moment I felt like a duck out of water, but I used this as my motivation to be better than average. I knew that if I was to stand out I would have to be not just good, but better. After all the statistics speak for themselves and can be found by all on the NHS England website.

Over the years a number of surveys and studies have been completed including “the snowy white peaks of the NHS” in 2003 by the British Medical Association. Sadly the theme of inequality recurs throughout all of these articles. Whats more worrying is that despite this data being published, multiple organisations being established to drive change, very little seems to have improved and in some cases is actually worse. That being said discrimination and inequality is still alive and kicking in virtually all aspects of the modern world, so should we be surprised that it still shows its ugly head in the competitive field of medicine.

At a glance healthcare appears to be a well mixed sector, with doctors and nurses coming from all corners of the globe. Black and ethnic minority staff account for approximately one third of the UK NHS work force. These staff have been integral to the functioning of the service since its creation. Unfortunately, this contribution is not reflected in pay or career progression. According to NHS England, ethnic minorities are less likely to be selected for development programmes and more likely to be performance managed. They are less likely to be shortlisted and appointed, more likely to be struck off the register, and are on average paid less over their careers. Further to this BME patients across the US and the UK have consistently reported receiving a poorer service. This has been demonstrated in several studies and surveys. BME patients also demonstrate far worse cancer survival rates, though the reasons for this is likely multifactorial.

As the UK National health service catches up with the modern world, I do feel that change will come. There certainly is an awareness, and I believe this is the first step. Young doctors and nurses from a BME background should not be discouraged and should actually use this as motivation as I have, to be as good as they can possibly be, to open doors for themselves where they have previously been closed and perhaps leave them open for those to come.

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