Updated: Apr 21, 2022
Dr Khadija Owusu first noticed the gap in the education system when she went from a government state school to sixth form in a private school on a scholarship. She saw a stark difference in the education you received, as well as the extra resources and opportunities that were available to you. Moreover, she noticed the lack of diversity in the private school and experienced the isolation that comes with being in a space without others that look like you, people that share the same background and experiences that you have had. “There is sometimes no one to lean on - you need someone who has dealt with the same prejudices, the same microaggressions, and can share the same experiences.”
As she moved to medical school, this lack of diversity continued. This is an experience that has been shared by many, and Khadija wanted to change this. This led to Khadija becoming the Director of Programmes for the organisation Melanin Medics. A registered charity since the middle of the covid-19 pandemic, Melanin Medics aims to increase representation of African and Caribbean-descent students within the medical profession. They have a number of programmes to achieve this, such as mentorship programmes for students in year 12, to development programmes for final year medical students, EDI workshops and a wellbeing fund that provides mental health support for doctors and medical students of black heritage. They have done incredibly well, with a 91% success rate of getting students they have interacted with into medical school. They focus particularly on government state schools, as teachers and career counsellors in these schools often do not have the available resources to help students interested in medicine. By doing this, they are bridging the gap that Khadija identified when she was moving through the system herself.
Khadija explains that these issues do not just stop in University, but that they persist in work placements and further She has encountered microaggressions, unconscious bias, and more. “You work so hard; you manage to navigate your way through university, and then find yourself facing more challenges.” She refers to these challenges as the reason why people, especially those of ethnic minorities, are mass exiting healthcare professions. And this is considering the fact that there is an undergraduate and postgraduate attainment gap - which she points out more research needs to be done in order to find actionable solutions. She suggests that a safe space for black students needs to be created when they transition from medical school to their first work placement. “There is no point encouraging our students to go into medicine if the culture they will encounter when they get there is one full of challenges heavily associated with being an ethnic minority.” She points out that creating more effective anti-racism training is necessary, and not just ‘click-through tutorials that no-one is actually engaging with.’ Melanin medics actually delivers online workshops around this, and she suggests that something like that may help. The shift in the culture needs to happen with everyone.
Furthermore, a lack of diversity creates problems not only for those working in the medical profession, but also their ability to treat their patients. “When the leadership is not diverse, treating people of ethnic minorities and making sure that medicine is available and accessible to everyone is not always one of their top priorities.” She refers specifically to the statistic that was released showing that black women are 5 times more likely to die from giving birth. If the leadership isn’t diverse, it has a knock-on effect, and the bottom of the ladder is chaotic. Khadija is also quick to point out the intersectional aspect of diversification. “There are issues that women face, different issues that black women face, and different issues if you are a black woman that is Muslim, and so forth.” Issues of diversity and inclusions are complex, and without having a diverse workforce and leadership, it is impossible to address these properly.
Melanin Medics and the work that young people such as Khadija have done is essential for diversifying the medical space. But she also points out that the space itself needs to shift to accommodate this, and that at some point, change needs to be started internally - perhaps in conjunction with organisations like Melanin Medics.
Want to keep up to date with Khadija and her work with Melanin Medics? Click the links below!
Melanin Medics Website: https://www.melaninmedics.com