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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

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