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I was born in Trinidad and Tobago and came to England on an island scholarship to attend Birmingham University in the early 1970’s. My practice is in Waltham Forest, North East London, one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse areas in the country. My training practice supervises a number of young doctors of all ethnic groups, but you might only see one or two black doctors over a period of time.
There is no significant visible representation of black doctors in the media, so I suppose many young people may feel as though this profession is not for them. We need role models so that these young people have individuals to look up to who enable them to feel as though they are being represented and are able to become the doctors of the future.
We need to encourage children, at a very early age, that medicine is a real option to ensure that they are not put off, and feel confident that they are able to achieve the right grades. I would jump at the opportunity to go into some inner-city schools to speak to young people, to empower them to have the “can do” attitude they need to become a doctor by saying something like ’I'm a doctor, let me tell you my story.’
I mentored a black Caribbean youngster for a short period of time for a university career in South London. She came to see me approximately four times and the last communication I had from her was that she had passed her exams. The feeling that I had been able to help her gave me a real sense of fulfilment.
I think a programme from the NHS to develop this type of mentoring would be a useful idea. However, there are current schemes linking medical schools with secondary schools, to try to encourage children from less well-off backgrounds to consider medicine.
Nevertheless, there is an atmosphere, after the Brexit vote, where there is uncertainty about the status of international medical graduates. There is a clarion call that the only focus must be on developing home-grown doctors and this will be a resolution to all our workforce problems. This is causing discomfort amongst not only European doctors working in the UK but also BME doctors who were born here because of constant recitation around immigration. This kind of talk will inevitably decrease the medical profession’s ability to widen participation.
I enjoy being a GP, a tutor for medical students in the community, a trainer for GPs on the GP training programme, and a programme director. I became interested in the BMA, and joined the GPs’ committee (GPC) and then got elected to the international committee which I currently chair.
I have been fortunate enough to develop a GP practice with a multi ethnic team that is representative of our diverse community and our patients feel confident to come to us at all times. When students evaluate their training with us, they often comment that being part of such a diverse team has made the GP surgery feel more welcoming.
Equality really does equal quality; my practice is testament to that.
Terry John is a GP in North East London and chair of the BMA international committee
Read our interview with Terry John