This Doctor Can: Flying in the face of discrimination

In spite of the racial discrimination her mother faced while working in the NHS, Dr Akon Esara was determined to follow in her footsteps.

My inspiration during my training came from my mother, who moved to the UK from Nigeria to work as a nurse. Over the years, I watched her move up from working as a staff nurse to a clinical nurse specialist (CNS). I remember seeing pictures of her and her colleagues at work events and learnt that she was probably the only black female CNS in her hospital at that time.

Unfortunately, she had to endure racism and workplace bullying for many years because of this. Being beside her throughout these experiences opened my eyes to ways in which discrimination within the NHS is manifested. It also made me proud to see that in spite of all these difficulties she kept going and did not give up. Treating the hurdles as something to jump over, rather than roadblocks.

So when I decided to become a doctor, she was fully supportive, which at the time I thought was interesting because of what she had experienced. Knowing the difficulties my mother had gone through proved very useful to me when I began working in an environment in which I too was a minority. The deputy headmistress at my school was less enthusiastic however and said to me, ‘People like you don’t get to do medicine’ – so of course, I went for it!

I love being able to help my patients, I love making a difference, and I want those who have been told they can’t because of what they look like, to know that this is a hurdle, not a roadblock.

Dr Akon Esara

My experiences have been different to my mother’s, in that I am grateful not to have experienced overt racial discrimination from colleagues. However, throughout my career so far, and especially now as a registrar, some patients have needed a bit of convincing.

Sometimes it’s been obvious, and other times it’s been difficult to tell what the root of issues are – whether it is race, gender or age. I often have to spend the first few minutes of a consultation trying to convince a new patient that I am qualified and experienced enough to see them, which can amount to a significant portion of the consultation time.

Should I explain to my consultant that the reason the clinic ran over time today is because I had to spend almost 5 minutes convincing patient A that I really was a qualified doctor, and another 5 minutes addressing patient B’s questions about what country I received my training in and how long ago that was?

I decide against it, it’s just a hurdle. Instead, I take the time it needs and eventually my patients become comfortable and are very happy to see me again. I realise I may have to always prove myself, but my early experience with the horrible deputy headmistress gave me a good head start!

I love being able to help my patients, I love making a difference, and I want those who have been told they can’t because of what they look like, to know that this is just a hurdle, not a roadblock.

I am black, I am a woman, I am young-looking, and This Doctor Can. Take a seat and try me.

Would you like to share your experience of becoming a doctor? Get in touch on Twitter via @thisdoctorcan.