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For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a doctor.
Although I dabbled with the thought of delving into other career paths, becoming a doctor was my one ambition that stood the test of time.
It’s easy to be single-minded when you’re young, and when your ambitions are still just far away dreams. As I grew older however, the realities of pursuing a career in medicine as a young African girl soon became evident.
Like many other young people, I lacked confidence.
Despite the fact I’d worked hard and proved myself as academically capable, studying medicine seemed so out of my reach.
I didn’t know anyone from a similar background to myself who had gone on to study medicine in the UK and didn’t know where to turn to receive support with my application to medical school.
Fortunately, I was introduced to a local GP who had come from a similar background to me and she quickly became my mentor.
I felt incredibly privileged to have found someone who played such a supportive and instrumental role in my journey, but I soon realised that others like me from BAME backgrounds weren’t as lucky.
Once I started medical school, I was shocked to realise just how few students were from African-Caribbean heritage.
In a cohort of approximately 300 students, only 10 of us were of African-Caribbean descent.
According to HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency), three per cent of UK medical students were of African Caribbean Heritage in comparison to 35 per cent of medical students from BAME backgrounds.
It doesn’t take much to realise that African-Caribbeans are underrepresented in UK medical schools and similarly among qualified doctors.
Having realised the lack of diversity, I felt that there was something that could, and should, be done and subsequently Melanin Medics was born.
My journey to medical school was plagued with self-doubt for many reasons; my school didn’t believe in me, I lacked clinical work experience and I wasn’t well connected.
I therefore wanted to use Melanin Medics to show that if I could do it and those in the Melanin Medics team could also do it, then anyone can do it.
There are many barriers which stand in the way of a person of African-Caribbean descent becoming a doctor and ascending the ranks. Despite this, Melanin Medics believes that there is no barrier which is insurmountable.
Melanin Medics is an organisation that is dedicated to supporting the UK community of African-Caribbean aspiring medics, medical students and medical professionals – while also tackling the underrepresentation of African-Caribbeans in the medical profession here in the UK.
We have been focused on implementing practical, effective and positive solutions which will help to overcome underrepresentation and the multiple socio-economic barriers in the medical profession.
Within the past year we have been able to help a number of prospective medical students with their personal statements.
This has proved to be a huge success, with a number of those we have helped having gone on to receive offers to study medicine from esteemed universities such as Cambridge and Nottingham.
Our blog enables African-Caribbean medical students and doctors to share their experiences and encourage those from similar backgrounds. Through our outreach scheme, we have visited a number of schools in the South East of England and helped to support prospective medical students also through our mentorship scheme.
Through our Medical Students Network and Doctors Network we have been able to provide work experience opportunities for mentees and networking opportunities.
We believe that representation is very key to increasing diversity, and role modelling and mentorship are effective ways of doing so.
Sharing success stories of African-Caribbeans in medicine and providing one to one support are powerful tools. To quote [emergency medicine doctor] Ronke Ronx Ikharia’s maxim: ‘You cannot be what you do not see.’
Ultimately, our goal is to increase the number of African-Caribbean students being admitted onto medicine courses nationwide and to support prospective African-Caribbean medics on their journey to their chosen medical professions.
We also hope to hold regional events all around the UK to maximise our reach in collaboration with similar organisations and UK medical schools.
In reality, diversity has no end point. As society changes, the medical workforce should reflect our diverse society.
The demographics of our nation have changed considerably over the past five years.
While the numbers around African-Caribbean representation in various medical fields have increased, there is still more work to be done to further change the face of medicine and our hope is that Melanin Medics will be instrumental in doing so.
Olamide Dada is a third-year medical student at Cardiff University, and the founder of Melanin Medics
Read about the BMA’s recent conference, Creating a Turning Point on Race Equality in Medicine.
Inspiring story Olamide. Well done. All the best for your studies and future career. There doesn't seem to be many with your sense of vocation in the profession these days.
Well done Olamide, yourself and your organisation deserve more recognition!
Proud of my baby girl. Keep putting God first and you will be amazed at how much God can use you to accomplish his goals. More grace darling. Aunty Tolu
Very inspiring. Keep up the good work and all the best in your med school
Very insightful and inspiring post, Olamide. Keep impacting - you surely have a lot to give. I also like the sound of your brand ‘Melanin Medics’
Dear Olamide, In principal I fully support what you are aiming to achieve. However, your example of 10 out of 300 students is in fact reflective of the ethnic percentage of Afro-Caribbean’s (~3%) in the UK as a whole. I’d be interested to know what % you are aiming for, given that medical school applications are a nationwide process.
Nicholas Prior (FY1)
I have noticed a large range of articles on the BMA website which appear to fit this narrative that writer Olamide is driving in this article. Firstly, congratulations on your success in achieving a medical school place and I trust you will go on to become an excellent doctor. However, I find the tone of these articles puzzling. You argue "representation is key to achieving diversity" & "diversity has no end point" and ultimately explain your resentment to the fact that Afro-Caribbeans are under-represented vs other BAME medical groups. The reality is that the medical workforce is heavily affected by the local population, when I worked in hospitals in Birmingham vs the North of England, the ethic differences in the workforce was staggering but reflected the local populations.
The key point is this: if 3% of the medical students in the UK were Afro-Caribbean were black last year yet 8% of the population is Afro-Caribbean, should we invest key funds/resource/strategies into actively recruiting more Afro-Caribbean doctors? What are the purported advantages of this increase in diversity? Perhaps you are suggesting that Afro-Caribbean medics would make a better alternative to somebody else who had applied for that medical student position; just because of their race? I agree fundamentally that equality of opportunity should be the same across the board, for example even anonymising UCAS applications - but what evidence is there that actively funding equality of outcomes in representation will lead to improvements in the NHS. An organisation which is already so severely struggling with a paucity of funding.
-Femi Ojuwe , CT2
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