Support Comes In A Multitude Of Ways
Updated: Apr 23, 2021
I can always hear my brother’s voice, ‘Network, network, network; it’s the only way
you’re going to get a foot in the door’. Because of this, at college and university, I
was in the front row to the talks about ‘elevator pitches’, ‘outstanding CVs and cover
letters’ and ‘making the most out of meeting the right people’; all of which were
important – not realising how much so, as I didn’t think these skills were needed as a
doctor. Medical school changed that perspective quickly. It unveiled to be quite a
challenging rollercoaster ride - an eye opener needed for me to recognise that in
order to thrive; I needed all the support from my community that I could get – gained
through bodies like ACMA.
Having been brought up in a Nigerian household, I have always had the ‘what
happened to the other 2% or the person who came 1st , did they have 2 heads?’; not
that my parents actually thought I deliberately didn’t achieve my best or that some
people actually had a rare anatomical variation, but it was their way of trying to instil
diligence, perseverance and resilience. If you push yourself and work hard, it will pay
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Most of you reading would have experienced one or
all of the following: being told that you wouldn’t get into medicine because you’re ‘not
the right look/not the sort that become doctors’, the same people under-predicting
your grades; not getting into medical school the first time round despite achieving
good grades, several microaggressions or blatant racism (interpersonal and
structural) during your time in medical school – from course mates, lecturers,
clinicians and patients; to starting clinical work as a junior doctor – patients,
colleagues and your consultants who are meant to be supportive supervisors, who
either are inappropriate in their words or actions, over report and unnecessarily
escalate incidents and actively impede your progress from a position of (sadly)
hatred and jealousy, ignorance and unconscious bias.
All of these are examples of the unseen hurdles that every black person who tries to
navigate this life faces. Intersectionality is mind contortion – where one hurdle
becomes 2, plus a skipping rope going at 20mph - which, of course, has blades.
This can be really discouraging, especially when you get several push backs that
don’t let you reap the rewards of your hard work. But I found having a support network
really provided a source of mental and physical stamina to accomplish my aspirations.
How do you go about creating a network? – By joining and forming groups like
ACMA. Meetings and conferences are also great opportunities for this and where
this is open to you, I implore you to utilise it. Having that conversation with someone
may just be the next step to getting an email, to regular correspondence, to getting
advice, to the suggestion of a job opportunity.
At a RCGP meeting themed around black doctors influencing the NHS, I managed to
speak to a GP trainee, previously surgical trainee. In my introductions; I explained
my dream to become a surgeon – at the time, a burns and plastic surgeon. He started
reeling off names of black plastics trainees, those he went to medical school with
and those he met along his career. In all honesty, I felt a little intimidated because I
didn’t recognise any of the names. Then I realised that actually, this is inspiring. I
was so amazed that there were so many black surgeons located all over the UK and
he was in contact with them. He helped me connect. Little did I know that a few
months later, I was going to be meeting some of those people face to face.
At the ASiT conference in 2020, a Black consultant – not any, the first black female
orthopaedic surgeon gave a keynote speech. Seeing her at the podium and face on
the large screen, commanding attention of all those who listened, was inspirational. I
had the opportunity to speak to her afterwards and although I was stumbling over my
words to say how much of a role model she is to someone like me, aspiring to
become a surgeon, she was very patient to offer her advice.
During a break of a pre-conference course, I spoke to 2 maxillofacial consultants
who were encouraging me to apply for this field – encouraging a black woman to go
into a competitive surgical specialty is not a conversation I have often seen or had. I
noted that majority of the teachers were of the BAME community; so the
importance of the conversation resonated even more.
The following day, I spotted a table with 2 black doctors – I had to join them. I quickly
learnt they were core surgical trainees. Conversation flowed and they were honest
about the ups and downs of the training. Nonetheless, despite the usual hurdles of
having to work twice as hard for half the distance, they wouldn’t swap their position
for anything else. I was honoured and encouraged to witness such honesty with the
assurance that a surgical career path is attainable.
Finally, I managed to meet one of the aforementioned ‘reeled off’ plastics trainees.
We started with a conversation over email, but thought best to put a name to face
and try to connect during the conference – she is part of the ASiT committee, so had
to be there. This was the best decision I’ve made yet – such a robust and practical
conversation. There’s one thing being encouraged and having hard work
acknowledged, but there’s another thing having someone sit down, and advice you
on how to keep achieving.
My main message is for those who are still medical students, use the opportunity to
network – go to conferences, talks, seminars, events; it’s all well and good enjoying
the company of your friends, but go up to speak to people you do not know.
Introduce yourself, but also sell your best self - your aspirations could be more
attainable with their help or expertise. If you’re unsure of a career path (that’s
absolutely fine!), be honest and ask how you can make the most of the opportunities
given; and most importantly, ask for contact details.
If you’re a doctor, at whatever level, keep networking amongst yourselves and
support the students. “You cannot be what you do not see” (Dr Ronx, 2020) - they
need someone who looks like them, who has made it, to look up to. You may not
realise, but to them, you help motivate them through the 4 hour exams or 4 day long
OSCEs. Be the connection – it is very likely that your friends are also doctors. Join
ACMA and get them in touch with people who need the support; not just for others,
but yourself too. You never know how far helping to connect may go.
Dr Emezie Okorocha