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“The biggest barrier is the unknown” | This Doctor Can | Race Equality Week

This week, we are recognising Race Equality Week which sees hundreds of thousands of organisations and individuals from all over the UK come together to address the barriers to race equality in the workplace.  

Dr Omar Mustafa is a consultant physician in diabetes and general internal medicine based at King’s College Hospital, London, and the RCP’s global vice president and associate global director for Middle East and North Africa. He tells This Doctor Can about how he's seen barriers to race equality in and out of healthcare, the important role of active listening in overcoming barriers, and how it’s everyone’s role to be aware of issues concerning race.  

“I spent a big part of my life growing up in the Middle East, which is where my family is from.

“Often when I’m completing forms, there isn’t a suitable category – it’s not white, not black and not Asian. The modern categories are getting better, for example when I applied to the RCP role I could select Middle Eastern - Arab. 

“It’s important for you to have an identity so that you can relate to it in terms of how you live, but you have to look at it in different contexts.  

“Ultimately, in terms of how you interact with people, you have to listen and appreciate other people so that you’re not alone on an island. Identity is a collective term of a wide range of characteristics and attributes. Race is one of them.  

“I have seen barriers to race equality in some settings, both in healthcare and outside of healthcare, and in the media. It can be extremely uncomfortable to see it or listen to it, and our role is to make sure that it doesn’t happen and to raise awareness of it. 

“I think the biggest barrier is the unknown. When people don’t know what things are, then they start to apply whatever prejudiced views they have to deal with it. If you don’t know the other, then you tend to assume, and when you assume it is a problem. We should know our data and keep a regular review. 

“It can be addressed by education and by sharing stories so that we get to know each other better. As people within a system and system leaders our role is influence and create systems that ensures equity irrespective of race or any other characteristics.  

This year Race Equality Week is taking place between 5-12 February and is focussing on the theme of #ListenActChange, encouraging participants to focus on three key areas that can create change: organisations moving from words to action, leaders and managers driving change and being accountable and engaged, and encouraging allies to become active.  

Omar added: “A lot of people hear, but they don’t always listen, and if you don’t listen to something then you don’t process it. A good proportion of people stop at that point and don’t act. 

“As you progress in your career, action becomes more important and if you see something that isn’t right you should call it out, but this can be very uncomfortable at times. 

“This is everyone’s issue – it’s not just about certain elements of an organisation, it can happen every day and the issues can be related to everyone, so it’s an issue that everyone should be aware of and everyone should apply the rules."