Dr. Yvette Adjei-Gyamfi has reflected on her life as a senior black radiologist working in a mostly white community in the U.K. Until recently, she was the only black female consultant in her hospital. She is London born and raised, but she has never been more aware of her race.
"I feel I've been more aware of my race and the impact of being a black female doctor as a consultant than I ever have been, throughout my whole career," she said. "For example, often one is painted as having an aggressive brash nature without actually being that way."
The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) is spotlighting Adjei-Gyamfi and others as part of Black History Month.
"It is the small things such as always being listed or called 'Dr. Yvette' on waiting-room boards because my surname 'just takes too long to write out or is complicated to pronounce' that leave lasting feelings of alienation," she noted.
She said there have been "various instances which I strongly believe were influenced by the colour of my skin."
"In the earlier days of starting my substantive post, I was constantly being referred to as the 'technician' by patients. Despite always introducing myself as 'Dr.', my title never seemed to be acknowledged, yet my assistant (who is a radiography assistant and radiation safety officer) was always referred to as the 'lovely nurse'."
On one occasion, Adjei-Gyamfi heard an elderly man who was accompanying his friend to an appointment say he was "about to have some black magic done to him! Loud and clear for me to hear. On another occasion, I was told by a patient that I 'couldn't get sunburnt because of the colour of my skin'."
Born and bred in London
Born to Ghanaian parents, Adjei-Gyamfi grew up in Newham, East London. In 2001, she began her medical studies at St George's Hospital Medical School. She now works for the National Health Service (NHS) in a part of Essex where black people make up only 1.4% of the total population. "I most definitely am aware of this reality, both among my colleagues and patients daily."
"Despite being 'born and bred' in London, I was once told that I couldn't be understood, and my Polish assistant needed to translate to the patient on my behalf. These are just a few instances," she said.
"I believe much of my experiences stem from a genuine lack of knowledge and education. With the increasing presence of fellow black doctors and awareness, they will hopefully become less of an occurrence.
Last year she was joined in her hospital by a second black female consultant "whom I casually met on the stairwell one day and immediately felt it necessary that I introduce myself and welcome her. The sense of mutual solidarity was felt instantly."
She urges other non-white doctors "not to be deterred by such experiences but rather always strive to be recognised for your provision and contribution towards patient care and working as a valuable member of the team," she said.
"Let us be known for our excellence and not the colour of our skin," she added.
You can read the full blog on the RCR website.