Where religious difference has overshadowed racial discrimination

by Chris Hoo

The discussion about race and discrimination and how to tackle it is gaining momentum

Published: Friday 30 April 2021
A colleague offers support to another colleague

Working as a doctor has many and varied challenges and these can be compounded by the differences among us, differences which are not always of our own choosing.

As a doctor from and an ethnic minority background I have been particularly struck at how these additional differences are viewed in Northern Ireland where religion has generally been the ‘difference’ that was most talked about.

Rather than celebrating and being a source of strength, this diversity frequently negatively affects our careers and our lives. This affects doctors at all levels of their career, from medical school through post graduate training, consultancy and beyond! In my own experience I have found when working and training in Northern Ireland, that the vast majority of people are genuinely friendly. They might not be aware of the unconscious bias or behaviour that might make some uncomfortable or may be perceived as ‘microaggression’ – that’s why it is even more important to make the general public aware of the diversity there is and educate them on different cultures.

I have experienced the rare overtly racist remark or action, and it is upsetting and distressing. I think it is important that we establish networks where minority ethnics can get help and support that they need.

Though efforts to address this has been ongoing for years, recently there has been an increased recognition of the role of race as being one of the major factors contributing to either conscious or unconscious bias, sources of differential attainment or outright discrimination. Public awareness has also been heightened by the recent tensions surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and the fact that COVID disproportionally affects some populations based on race.

The BMA has always worked to address discrimination in medicine faced by various cohorts of doctors, whether it be gender, sexual orientation or race. Recently a National BAME forum has been formed with BMA members from all four nations included, to provide a network where issues relating to race experienced by our members can be shared, discussed and acted upon.

Moreover, formal steps have been made to increase ethnic minority representation in BMA committees and structures. This is critical work for the BMA and I am proud to be representing Northern Ireland on the forum.

Chris Hoo is a plastic surgeon, working in the Belfast Trust, a member on Northern Ireland Council and a former chair of the Northern Ireland junior doctors committee