As we celebrate Black History Month, Melanin Medics have the privilege of interviewing some great individuals doing amazing things for the black community within the world of medicine. This week we had the pleasure of getting to know more about Malone Mukwende who produced the resource called Mind the Gap: a handbook of clinical signs in black and brown skin.
Please kindly introduce yourself and what you do?
My name is Malone and I am a third year medical student. I study medicine at St George's, University in London. Aside from that, I am an Arsenal fan, and of course, I like to have fun!
Tell me a bit more about your journey into medicine
My journey into Medicine was very complicated and haphazard. I was actually rejected before interview stage by four medical schools – Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and Oxford. However, on results day, I was accepted into St. George’s to study Medicine, via clearing with 3A’s. So, I guess it all works out in the end.
What inspired you to start this initiative/project?
There were quite a few things that inspired me. Firstly, there was not any substantial teaching in my medical school about dermatological presentations on darker skin. I also found it ironic that, whenever I learnt content in dermatology, why is it that when I went onto the wards and met a patient with darker skin, I could not tell what their condition was? But, as soon as I saw a white patient, I instantly knew what condition they were presenting with. I was always second guessing the presentation and diagnosis in darker skinned people that I met on the wards, leading me to wonder why this was the case. From then, I was searching for answers from my lecturers. However, deep down, I knew that I would not get answers any time soon, so I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to create that answer. That is how Mind The Gap came into fruition. I always wrote down my ideas on paper, and I knew that I wanted to get this information out. Even though at some points, it felt as though I was ‘collecting scraps’ with lack of information and resources, I did not give up despite the difficulty of this project.
What has been the most rewarding part of this project so far?
It has been so heart-warming to see that Mind The Gap is revolutionising healthcare, and changing medical practice. It has been rewarding to see that people out there are genuinely being helped by Mind The Gap. For example, I recently received a handwritten letter from someone in Sweden praising Mind The Gap. Also, a GP has recently reached out to me to inform me that he has been using Mind The Gap, which is greatly supporting him in his practice. I am not even a qualified medical doctor yet, so it is honestly so rewarding! Mind The Gap is raising awareness in the medical world, and changing the bias that exists in healthcare. I always say, it makes me sleep at night, knowing that there is also someone out there who is sleeping at night because of Mind The Gap.
So what does a typical week look like for you?
Well, that is very hard to answer because of the current COVID-19 situation! My typical week is ever-changing. On Monday afternoons, I have Problem-Based Learning (PBL), whereby we discuss topic-specific case studies. Currently, we are learning about HIV and Malaria. On Tuesdays, I have lectures. On Wednesdays, I have clinical skills, in which I recently practiced venepuncture and drug prescribing. On Thursdays, we have lectures again, and on Fridays, we conclude our week again with PBL.
How are you able to balance this with your work commitments?
I am always asked this question and I believe that, everyone, including myself, has time. If I look at the screen time on my phone and see how many hours I have used, I realise that, I could have used even a few hours to do something more useful. Doing things to better myself every day, will eventually compound into something big. With small steps, you can always make progress. That is the same principle that I used for Mind The Gap. At medical school, no matter what stage I am at, I know that it is better to fulfil my responsibilities in the present moment, rather than later. This is to avoid my responsibilities building up too much. To sum it up, I read a very good quote recently: “time works against people with bad habits; but those with good habits have time on their side”.
Where do you see yourself and/or your project in the next 10 years?
Personally, I see myself just having fun! I just want to be happy in life, no matter where I am. In terms of Mind The Gap and the Black and Brown Skin website, I see them becoming the number one resource for images of clinical conditions on darker skin. Essentially, a comprehensive encyclopaedia with thousands of dermatological presentations on darker skin.
What developments in medicine would you like to see in the next 10 years?
I would like to see the medical world becoming more diverse and inclusive. Also, I would like to see medical professionals dismantle the biased and outdated medical ideologies used today, although established many years ago (justified by inhumane acts). I would like to see these developments rather than just accepting the outdated ideologies and the problems that we face today.
If you have any advice for our current medical students and aspiring medics, what would it be?
For current medical students, I would like to tell them that your voice and value is worth a lot more than you think. Sometimes, I feel as though we, as medical students, devalue ourselves because we think that we are at the bottom of the social hierarchy in terms of consultant levels, junior doctors etc. We actually have so much knowledge! So, we should always be courageous and know our worth. For aspiring medics, please know why you want to pursue medicine as a career. It is definitely not a straightforward road. In fact, it is sometimes very bumpy, so I advise that you make sure that you are certain on pursuing medicine. If you know why you’d like to study medicine, this reason will become your driving force when things start to get difficult during the process.
What is the best way to support or get involved with your project?
Please share, download and inform others about Mind the Gap handbook. There is also a feature on the Black and Brown Skin website that allows you to submit a non-identifiable image, relevant and appropriate for our website, about clinical skin conditions on darker skin. Or, you could share a story which will be posted on the website. These will start to get featured on the website from October, if you would like to get involved!
With thanks to Malone Mukwende for taking the time to chat to us, keep doing the amazing work you're doing!