BME Medics: A discussion with Ore Odubiyi

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By Nikki Peach, Deputy Editor

Deputy Editor Nikki Peach spoke to the founder of BME Medics, a new network set up by students to provide a supportive and safe environment for BME Medicine students

Ore Odubiyi first explained why she decided a network exclusively for BME Medics was necessary. She said, ‘The idea came about in September 2017 during a Bristol SU BME Network event. Medical school can feel quite separate from the wider university community at times and to have this combined with being from a minority ethnic background means that it can be even harder to feel that you are being fully seen and fully heard.’

Odubiyi added, ‘Microaggressions, subconscious biases and underrepresentation are so evident yet there seemed to be no space within medical school where we could acknowledge, confront and tackle these issues. BME Medics provides a platform where people can come together to do all of these things and more, whilst fostering an environment which supports each other and even inspires others to pursue a career in Medicine.’

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Image: Ore Odubiyi / BME Medics

When asked how she went about setting up the community and encouraging BME students to get involved, Odubiyi explained, ‘to a large extent it was a rather organic process. With word of mouth, people came on board and together we established what we wanted BME Medics to achieve, coining our tagline: Build Community. Inspire Others. Raise Awareness.’

She described how, several months later, after an initial bout of inactivity, she reached out to people on social media and asked more BME students to join the team. Unsurprisingly, lots of students responded to the call and BME Medics now continues to grow as more people have become aware of what they are doing.

The obvious question to address then was why BME communities are so underrepresented in Medicine. Odubiyi said, ‘this is a question that is currently being tackled on a national level. It seems to be a result of many things but the fact the NHS, GMC and BMA are actively looking into it is very encouraging.’

'BME doctors are less likely to be promoted into senior doctor roles than their white counterparts and this is not due to lack of merit'

‘Historically, formal medical practice was a white institution and doctors from ethnic backgrounds is a relatively new phenomenon. In historically white institutions such as politics, academia and healthcare there is always an initial degree of resistance to levelling the playing field so that all people can be active occupiers of such spaces and we are still experiencing the aftermath of this, due to the knock-on effects of racism and prejudice.

‘BME doctors are less likely to be promoted into senior doctor roles than their white counterparts and this is not due to lack of merit. Subconscious bias literally hinders BME doctors from occupying these spaces and as a result people from minority ethnic backgrounds are excluded from having a seat at the table where they could advocate for people like themselves and change the narratives of these institutions.’

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Image: Ore Odubiyi / Epigram

She explained the difficult reality that a lack of visibility of BME doctors in the community goes on to impact the aspiration of potential future BME doctors saying, ‘an inability to identify with a certain profession makes it less likely for a person to pursue it.’

‘Not to mention the BME Attainment Gap which starts at schools and does not merely exist at university level; generations of potential doctors have the opportunity of pursuing a degree in Medicine taken away from them before they can even get started! Curricula and teaching is often done through a white lens which can be exclusionary of BME students.’

‘The decolonisation of curricula at all levels could help reduce the BME Attainment Gap which would then see a knock-on effect of more students from minority ethnic backgrounds being able to consider a career in Medicine and then raising aspiration would allow for more students from these backgrounds to actively pursue Medicine for themselves. Increasing the presence of all BME people in Medicine is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to increasing our representation.’

'I am proud of my Nigerian heritage and to hear academics and students alike refer to Africa rather than specific countries or regions within this vast continent is very reductive'

Odubiyi acknowledges that her own experiences as a Black-African medic are unique and not indicative of all BAME medical students.

She described how ‘there are times when it has felt frustrating to be a black woman in this space, as we are often so sidelined. I am proud of my Nigerian heritage and to hear academics and students alike refer to Africa rather than specific countries or regions within this vast continent is very reductive and erases the experiences millions of people.’

‘Frankly, I find this to be very callous and it is a shame that people within higher institutions don’t seem to know any better. In teaching, we are not always taught how to identify diseases in people of different complexions which is very upsetting. It is when coming to study Medicine I understood why the standards of care between white people and people of colour are so disproportionate — the nuances of not being white are simply not considered in these spaces.’

‘I find it very worrying that our future doctors are being trained to only be able to adequately treat white people with very few people caring about this. Despite these and more, I am incredibly privileged to be in this space and although it took hard work to get here I am aware of the help I have been fortunate to receive. I want to use my privilege to help others who may not be as privileged as myself to achieve and pursue the very best for them. It is important that there is a change of the status quo.’

Looking to the future, Odubiyi addressed the difficulty of establishing fair and equal representation of all ethnicities in the field of Medicine. She responded honestly that, ‘It will not be easy at all but it is definitely worth it. So long as the powers that be see that there is a need for fair and equal representation and are proactive in seeking that change and include all people in changing the narrative, I believe it will certainly get done.’

By setting up Bristol BME Medics she aims to create a space for all ethnic minorities to engage with so that they feel their voice is being heard. ‘Our social media accounts and our website - bmemedics.co.uk - are some ways we are doing this. It is important that we build communities in which people feel comfortable to simply just “be” also, too often is the BME experience sensationalised and our existence becomes a political act which is exhausting!’

She hopes soon the network will be able to hold events ‘where people feel free to be themselves, a safe space devoid of microaggressions! Highlighting the successes of BME medics, students and professionals alike, is also very important to us.’

‘We also hope to hold a series of forums and events where we can openly have important discussions in how to make change in Medicine where we have all people present — non-BME people too!’ Hopefully we can help decolonise our curriculum too while we are at it.’

‘Last but not least, we want our reach to go far beyond Bristol as the issues faced by BME students in Bristol Medical School are by no means unique. There is so much power in the collective voice and a wide-scale change demands wide-scale action through our growth and collaboration with other grassroots initiatives like our own.’

‘In simple terms, we want to: Build Community. Inspire Others. Raise Awareness.’

AUTHOR

Nikki Peach

Deputy Editor 2018/19, formerly News Editor 2017/18 / Third-year English student