Updated: Feb 16, 2022
One of the biggest differences Lauren Pereira-Greene found between studying at a state school and then later at a private school, was the level of confidence that the kids had instilled in them.
While a younger student at a state school, she was constantly told that she would probably fail her GSCEs. She was surrounded by a more negative environment, despite having decent grades. On the other hand, when she found herself in private school on a full bursary, the kids around her had been told since they were much younger that they were going to be ‘future prime ministers.’ That is a stark difference, and that difference in environment can create a massive disparity in how much a young kid believes in themselves, and what they imagine their future to be.
Lauren is now studying Medicine at UCL. Moving through tertiary education, one of the first things she noticed was the lack of diversity - and the lack of people that looked like her. She says that the first time this really hit her was in a number of online conferences and talks she attended around medical research. The absurdity of it stuck out to her particularly when discussions of race and ethnicity in medicine came up - and her screen was full of white people and old men. How could they lead a discussion around diversity in medicine? She was shocked by this, but no one else in those talks seemed to notice the problem.
This feeling was exemplified by the reignition of Black Lives Matter movement in the first half of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd. Ignited by the discussions the movement promoted, Lauren decided that she wanted to start a student-led organisation to help improve diversity in the medical academic space - Diversity in Medical Academic (DIMA). Late on a Wednesday night, she created a twitter page and sent out her first tweet. She didn’t expect much of it, but she woke up to a flood of responses. People in the scientific and medical field strongly agreed with her and had a lot of similar experiences. Lauren said, “It was gratifying to know that I wasn’t alone, and the concern I had identified was a real problem.”
Despite the positive response from individuals, getting the institutions to listen and instil change has been far harder. “Getting them to act is the hardest part.” She has emailed people and got in contact with staff, but she has either been ignored or little has been done. While some may initially show interest, when presented with solutions and changes, they often don’t seem to back up their initial interest with any action.
Lauren herself has moved through a number of very white institutions. Although she said she is used to being sometimes the only black woman in the room, she had hoped that top London schools and universities would have a wealth of diversity to reflect the local population, but this was far from the reality She found it odd when, as the only black face in a class, she was asked to create lessons about racism, even though it shouldn’t be her responsibility to educate her classmates. “It also affects you psychologically,” she says, “when all the professors you see are white and all the cleaning staff are ethnic minorities. It affects how you see yourself in relation to the space around you.” She begs the question of what increased representation in media like film and advertisements means, when there is a lack of representation in leadership positions. It feels to her like it is all performative, and that no significant change has been made. Furthermore, it stops people listening because they feel that the problem has been dealt with.
Lauren is also passionate about decolonising and diversifying the medical curriculum. She and several others have noticed that teaching is often based on a white, Western, male narrative. During the pandemic, there was a huge disparity between the care that white patients received compared to those of a minority background. A reason for this could be the content medical students are taught. There is very little talk of people of colour, and the textbooks are filled with information of signs and symptoms on white bodies. But what does something as simple as skin inflammation look like on a black body? One of the main symptoms medical students are taught to look for, and yet they may not be able to identify this on a large number of their patients. She points out that “you cannot teach medicine on one demographic of people because it does not represent the diversity of the population you are treating.” This leads to medical students who have not been trained to accurately treat a large portion of their prospective patients.
The lack of diversity in medicine is a problem in every aspect of the profession and affects not only the future doctors of this country but also the patients they are going to look after. With the response to DIMA, this is clearly a problem that resonates with many people, that Lauren’s experience is not a singular one, and one that needs to be addressed by those further up in the system.
Want to keep up to date with Lauren and her work with DIMA? Click the links below!
DIMA LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/dimafoundation/