As the next academic year approaches, I feel it is the perfect time for reflection, preparation, as well as progression as I look back on the first two years of my adult life. It has been two years since I first felt that naive, wide-eyed joy of entering medical school. I’ve had some good experiences and met some amazing, talented people along the way. However, despite feeling inspired by those around me, I have to admit there is this sinister feeling that stays with me most days which is the immanent anti-blackness that plagues this profession and the way it affects Black women specifically.
Before we get into this blog, to provide you with some context, I go to university in London and I have almost reached the halfway point in my (six year long) medical school journey. There is a strong chance that I am writing this blog with a strong reluctance to confront my emotions on this topic but I am also exhausted by the challenges that I, as well as other Black women in particular have had to face in this profession so far.
This is not a blog that will reveal the solutions to making life easier as a Black woman in medicine or to analyse the reasons behind our struggles.
I am simply writing this blog to vent.
I hope that I will look back at this blog in a few years time and see some form of progress made concerning the treatment of Black women in medicine. Also, as a reminder to those that are unaware, Black women are not a monolith. We have varying characteristics and experiences. I am not here to speak on the behalf of all Black women, but there is a chance this post may relate to some.
The Need for Black Women But Also A Lack Of Acknowledgement
Firstly, let’s talk about the indisputable need for Black women in medicine, given the poorer outcomes Black women face as patients, but also the lack of acknowledgement of their voice. I think many of us can see that when we are on the wards, or when we simply look around the lecture theatre, there is an inadequate number of Black people in medicine - both men and women. In my medical school which is based in London, there is a comical percentage of Black medical students. For starters, in my year group, the proportion is around 4% in the city that is home to the largest number of Black people in the country (Black individuals make up 13.3% of the population of London). One can only laugh, because accepting this as a hard fact is truly painful. There is a clear need for more Black healthcare professionals which in itself is very frustrating. Stats show that Black women are five times more likely to die in pregnancy, childbirth or in the six month postpartum period than white women. There are many factors contributing to this, but the lack of Black healthcare professionals definitely plays a sad part. As a Black woman, I see the need for more Black doctors in the NHS. You can do all you can within your capabilities and see so little change - just painful really.
Separately, I have noticed there is an exceptional number of Black women who are involved in increasing representation in medical school and they really do deserve a round of applause - it’s not easy. Not to say that Black men aren’t involved but from observation, I have seen many Black women put in work towards the cause and generally, for many of the blog posts on the Black & Forth Platform the focus is on Black women. So I will continue to speak about them. From experience, I can say that as much as Black women are having these conversations with the relevant personnel, it genuinely feels as though we need to shout twenty times louder for the first word of our sentences to even scrape the surface of the ear canal. And if we are too loud we are plagued with the problematic stereotype of being too aggressive. After working with inclusivity initiatives and widening participation schemes, I find not only myself, but others repeatedly voicing the same issues and also providing solutions, for people with the authority to do something say, “What do you need us to do?”. Firstly, why weren’t you listening? And secondly, why is the onus on us to make amendments to oppressive systems that we did not create?
The Need to Serve and Give Back
After seeing the lack of incoming Black students in the medical profession, I find that some Black women spend a significant amount of time ‘giving back’. Before you point the finger at me and ask why this is an issue, I’m not saying that it is a bad thing to give back. In fact, it is so important. Not just from a moral standpoint, but for some of us it is generally good for self development and to gain a better understanding of people. Though it is important, it’s very easy to neglect your own personal needs and requirements. I am saying this because I have been there and done that. Sometimes some of us may feel the need to correct all that is wrong in this world, particularly the lack of Black representation in many spaces, but this all comes at a cost - emotionally, physically and socially.
Because of this, many may find it hard to pursue their own personal interests especially those in developing fields in medicine. It hurts me knowing that many Black women in medicine sacrifice some of their own aspirations to dedicate so much of their time to helping others. It’s not only sad but also unfair. The real gag is, if we don’t pursue these goals, it is likely that Black women may find themselves in a situation where we are now severely underrepresented in these new fields and once more our voices are then lost. The cycle of under-representation begins again and inclusivity for Black women - thrown out of the window.
I don’t want to write this blog with the intention of making people think that I have this fine balance between helping others and helping yourself figured out - because I really do not. But what I’m trying to say is that it is so important to also put yourself first. I think medicine must be one of the few professions that will punish you for thinking of yourself from time to time but I can’t help but think, if you do not try to find this balance, you may find yourself regretting life choices.
The Need to Overthink
Before I even begin to speak on this topic, I’m sure I am engaging in my own bout of hypocrisy even as I write this blog. In fact, I am sure that as you are reading this, I’m probably overthinking as I am writing this paragraph. I have this natural propensity to think something through about ten thousand times before I do it or to question myself in certain situations when in reality nobody really cares. In some respects, overthinking is useful because it behaves as some distorted form of quality assurance but on the other hand it provokes an unsettling sense of insecurity, anxiety and a tendency to waste time pondering on trivial things. To make matters worse when you conflate this idea of overthinking with issues such as imposter syndrome it can really lead you to a sunken place. I have had several conversations about this with other Black women and it is a problem - a large one. But before I go on, I don’t want to create this trope that Black women are insecure and unsure of themselves because I have met plenty of Black women who are completely and utterly sure of themselves. The last thing I want to do is create a piece of writing which takes that away from them. However, I am hoping that this piece of writing is something that someone could connect with so that they know they are not alone in these struggles.
Personally, I believe a lot of this overthinking boils down to conscious acknowledgement of how people perceive me. Both as an individual and also as a Black woman. I’m sure social media and most definitely some colorism contributes to this in some way, shape or form. Besides the point, I find myself trying to limit the strain of these false stereotypes associated with Black women at my own detriment which has now led me to constantly overthink.
Overthinking is something that I am trying to do less these days. Sometimes I am successful, other days I am not. But I can guarantee you one thing is that I am working on it. Even starting the Black and Forth Platform with Honey, it was more of a spur of the moment decision which showed some progress, I guess. Although we are in our early days, I already know that we will be glad that we did it.
As this blog post comes to a close, I am sure there are many other issues that I can talk about that may affect the average, day to day Black woman in medicine. Some of the reasons mentioned were pretty personal. I’m trying to be more open these days. Having said that, I don’t want to deny the fact that there are so many beautiful things about being a Black woman, especially one in medicine. Perhaps, I will make a blog post on the amazing qualities many Black women possess but that isn’t for today. My main focus was to let off some steam. Sometimes, in order to move forward, you need to confront some of the things bothering you.
Hopefully, this conversation doesn’t end here, so please do reach out to us about what you think especially on our socials. Our DM’s are open and you can also drop a comment underneath this blog. As previously stated in other blog posts, these opinions are mine but I’m always open to discuss and hear different perspectives.
Final quote from me:
"If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive." – Audre Lorde
Written by: Bimpe Adeyemi (Co-founder of the Black & Forth Platform)