Last week Melanin medics held their first annual conference called “The Future in Mind.” The event explored experiences and wellbeing of black medical students and doctors during the pandemic and explored the opportunities and future we can work towards.
The conference was kicked off with a wonderful discussion between Dr Khadija Owusu and our first keynote speaker Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu. Professor Elizabeth gave insight into what it was like becoming the first Sickle cell/ Thalassaemia nurse in the UK and the responsibilities that also followed it. She described her experiences as a young student of mixed heritage (Irish and Nigerian) studying nursing in the 60s in the UK. She recalled a pivotal moment where speaking up early in her career almost cost her career and was failed for that module. However, having allies within her community who were willing to fight on her behalf overturned that decision. Professor Dame Anionwu left us all feeling encouraged and inspired to take challenges head on.
Our next discussion topic was focused on doctor’s wellbeing, and this was a panel discussion moderated by Dr Mobola Odukale from the melanin medics team along with panelists: Aishnine Benjamin, who works as the head of Equality and Inclusion at the BMA. Dr Jermaine Bamfo a trainee Psychiatrist and advocate for increasing mental health awareness and Dr Anu Obaro, a radiologist and PhD researcher, a passionate educator and racial equality advocate. There were a series of topics discussed, such as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of our black doctors and what support is available. How to effectively whistleblow within the workplace, allyship vs advocacy and why there is a stigma surrounding seeking help with mental health within the black community. This was a great conversation that left the audience well informed and educated.
Moving on throughout the day we had another great charged panel discussion, moderated by melanin medic’s Dr Ayomide Ayorinde. With panellists Dr Jeff Allen, a senior lecturer and the year 1 director of MBBCh programme at Cardiff University, Professor Dave Subodh Dave, the Dean-elect for the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Malone Mukwende, award winning medical student and founder of Blacandbrownskin and Professor Nisha Dogra, an Emeritus Professor of Psychiatric Education and lead for integrating diversity at the University of Leicester. This panel focused on diversifying the curriculum and if change was on the horizon. Majority were of the consensus that there was progress made within this area, however the progress was slow and more needed to be done. Personal experiences were shared regarding reactions from medical schools in trying to diversify the curriculum. It was noted that change had to come from the top and leaders should be held accountable for not doing enough to help support black doctors. This was an interesting and thought-provoking discussion.
Next, attendees partook in two interesting workshops spear headed by Celutions on self-care and Dr Iyare Nehikhare on mentorship before our final keynote speaker of the day Dr Aggrey Burke. Dr Aggrey Burke shared his experience of becoming the first black consultant Psychiatrist in the UK and what this meant for him. He also gave accounts of a paper he wrote in 1986 with Dr Joe Collier on racial and sexual discrimination and how at the time they were blamed for causing disruption. But eventually this paper would bring about the start of change that they wished to see. He explained that from his experience there was change for the good, but although we are not quite there year there is still hope on the horizon.
Some things I learnt from the day:
· Become a member of a trade union in your trust. Often these are the people that can help fight for you if need and you can do the same for others.
· Be an advocate in your community but don’t put so much pressure on yourself to be able to fix it all.
· Look after yourself and your mental health. Unfortunately, we are replaceable in the workplace, so we need to make sure we do all we can to look after ourselves.
· If you need help with career progression, do not be afraid to seek out a mentor and approach them to ask if they would consider being your mentor.
This was such an encouraging event, and we hope to continue to have more of these discussions.
Written by Dr Mobola Odukale
Melanin Medics Blog Writer