Updated: May 19, 2019
The Melanin Medics Blog Series showcasing black Medical Professionals in various Medical Specialties. Sharing their journeys, challenges and life lessons. #RepresentationMatters. This week we're featuring a Psychiatrist!
My name is Dr Jermaine Bamfo and I am a core trainee in Psychiatry, currently completing my second year of specialty training. I am the first son of Ghanaian parents who had originally come to the UK in the mid-80s. I was born in Hackney and brought up in Shoreditch, when it was one of the most underprivileged areas in the whole of the UK and not the hipster-central we know it to be today; being brought up in that atmosphere came with its considerable challenges but I am grateful to God and my family for helping me thrive nonetheless. I left secondary school with 14 GCSEs A*-C. I applied for Medicine at A-level but unfortunately missed out on my conditional offers by the slimmest of margins. Fortunately, due to my performance at my medical interview at Liverpool I was offered a place to study Anatomy & Human Biology at the University of Liverpool, and eventually attained a First Class. I managed to get onto the highly-competitive graduate entry programme at Imperial College London, and completed the course in 2013. I did my foundation training in Northern Ireland, where I also attained a Postgraduate Diploma in Psychiatry and Mental Health from Queens Univeristy Belfast. I took an F3 year where I worked in medicine at Watford General Hospital and Medway Maritime Hospital before securing a specialty training number in Psychiatry in 2017.
Why did you choose this Specialty?
I ended up choosing to pursue Psychiatry because it was a specialty where I could marry my personal interests and my abilities and utilise them to be the best doctor I could possibly be. I have always been drawn to the stigmatised in society, and helping break down stigmas. Through my personal experiences and my work mentoring people in a variety of mediums, I have seen that mental health is a critical part of the human make-up. And with increasing societal awareness of mental health, there is an increasing demand on formal services. Not only that but I feel it is important to have greater Afro-Caribbean representation in the field in order to offset some of the well-known discriminatory issues that exist when it comes to mental health services in the UK. I wanted to play my part to effect real change, in a field that I would genuinely enjoy working in on a day by day basis.
During your time in Medical School, did you enjoy this specialty?
NO! Which is hilarious. And that’s why it’s important as medical students to always keep an open mind when it comes to specialties. Sometimes you can be drawn to the ‘sexier’ specialties but you have to keep at the forefront of your mind your ‘why’ (i.e. the reason *why* you’re pursuing medicine) and in my previous answer you can see how my *why* has led me into a career in Psychiatry. I suppose for me I hated Psych at medical school not necessarily because it may not have been the most respected of specialties but more that I had some bad experiences in a clinical placement on a Psychiatric ICU which I felt at the time were representative of what I would have to face in the specialty as a whole. It was my F2 placement which showed me the breadth of Psychiatry, the opportunities available, the work-life balance, the great attitude to educational opportunities etc. Working in that placement and seeing what was on offer, everything clicked. Unfortunately that click did not happen at medical school.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
In my medical journey I suppose it is completing graduate entry medicine at Imperial College. It was an intensive course, and it coincided with a very difficult period of my life where I was working out who I was as a person, what I wanted from life, questioning everything and everyone. It was a period of time which could have broken me easily, but I came out standing tall.
What has been your biggest challenge working in this specialty so far?
I think it can be very uncomfortable at times being on-call and being confronted by a medical emergency. In an inpatient mental health setting you most times don’t have the range of equipment you would have at your disposal in a typical medical setting, and the staff may not be as well-trained and proficient in dealing with physical health as you would like. So it can be challenging and disorienting dealing with such situations. It’s a greater test of your general medical knowledge in terms of reacting to things quickly, effectively, knowing what you can do with what you have and working out when a higher ceiling of care is required.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I love to spend time with my young family - my beautiful partner Sibyl and our perfect young baby girl Aivanna. Im a regular churchgoer, attending Powerland Chapel International at South Woodford where I’m involved with the media and also with the young adults group. Im also involved with the GUBA Foundation as a PR & Communications Executive; the GUBA Foundation is a charity which has a range of focuses including reducing infant mortality in Ghana and increasing autism awareness in the Afro-Caribbean communities. I enjoy travelling, and also enjoy exercising my creative abilities be it via drawing artwork or engaging in design. I’m an introvert and in the past few years I’ve found great comfort in understanding & accepting this, and revelling in having my own space & time to relax and recharge.
What advice would you give to someone interested in this specialty?
Pursue your interest! It’s a rich season for Psychiatry and mental health at the moment in that there seems to be an appetite in the wider world for increasing awareness. So keep your eye out for topical issues in the news and enhance your knowledge of the big issues that are out there. Seek out opportunities to shadow trainees or spend time in various settings. There is currently a big movement helmed by the Royal College of Psychiatrist themed ‘Choose Psychiatry’ - which is aiming to increase recruitment numbers, and there are a wide range of resources available to help answer your queries and dispel any myths about the specialty. Try and engage in as many things as you can which show off your genuine interest in mental health, as these will stand you in good stead when it comes to applying for specialty posts. If you’re interested in Psychiatry, go for it! Take the leap! I made the jump a couple of years ago and there’s never been a day that I’ve regretted it.