I sort of had a major moment of realisation last week.
It was after I had spent some time interviewing Dr Emeka and seeing how, he had really launched himself from the launch pad of his medical degree, into the world of media and other amazing opportunities. (To watch this interview, head over to our Instagram page!)
For some time now, I had really noticed how black people, really have this drive to thrive wherever we are placed and to manifest the potential of whatever is in our hands – like nurturers, tenders of the ground, that are given seeds and bring back fields of fruitful abundance. You can see this throughout black history – from Ancient Egypt, King Musa, the many Kingdoms in Africa, to even during the historical tragedy of slavery, colonialism, racial oppression and segregation.
We are never satisfied with mediocrity, normality or conformation – We do the most.
I think it’s reflected in all we do. Wherever we are, we are always noticed for the difference we make to where we are. We are loud in everything we do – literally, and our creativity is as diverse as our skin colour, and the diversity has brought beauty and colour into our world – these are seen in our hairstyles, our food, our body language, emotional expression, passion and energy, traditional clothing, dancing and music - the list is endless.
And medicine is no exception.
As part of the BMS team, I’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to interview some amazing individuals who have used their already profound medical degrees, to establish even more impressive careers – aesthetic & cosmetic medicine, media medicine and aviation medicine are just to name a few that areas that these doctors have thrived in.
Not only have they achieved these feats, but they are even more driven to bring on board their fellow black peers onto this ship of success. It’s been so inspiring and encouraging to see that there are individuals who are not being confined to the “conveyor belt nature of the medical field” and to be “safe”, i.e. not to explore outside of the speciality training programmes and to perhaps minimize your passions and hobbies for the sake of your training.
I say this because, that’s how I’ve felt throughout medical school. I always had big dreams and aspirations that went beyond being an NHS doctor. But when I told my personal advisor, he ridiculed me and unintentionally squashed my ambitions, forcing me to don the t-shirt of an NHS doctor that didn’t quite fit me perfectly. On the outside, I appeared happy with this decision, but deep within, I was holding my breath and suffering from this.
Luckily, I did not succumb completely - many instances later in medical school re-ignited my passions and gave me the confidence I needed to run forward to achieve them.
But please do not be mistaken - I must emphasize that I am not here to criticize the NHS training programmes, or anyone who is happy with being a full-time NHS doctor. Being a doctor is an amazing proffession.
But what about those who haven’t found the perfect specialty for themselves? What about those who want to incorporate their passions into their medical career? What about those who want to embark on a unique medical career pathway? Unfortunately, the NHS training programmes do not always cater for individuals like this, and at times, discourages and squashes them – moulds them back to fit into their ideal doctor mould. The outcome however can be a life of regret, lack of work satisfaction and not ultimately, depression and burnout.
But, let’s be real – it’s not easy to decide to create your own bespoke medical career. People may openly or covertly criticise you, doors may shut on you, your finances or progress may be affected negatively. Not everyone has the tenacity to embark on such a path.
Although, I think black people do - it’s what we’ve been doing for centuries. It’s why we were able to fight back against slavery, colonialism, segregation and racial oppression. Why we can still achieve so much in a world were institutional racism still tries to put a cap on how high and far we can go - We have this innate predisposition to be fighters, achievers and innovators.
It’s so essential for there to be people who are willing to go against the norm - that’s how inventions, scientific breakthroughs and theories come about in the first place. Differences allow society to progress. Differences bring enlightenment, wonder and vibrance to the world – and you can see it in all aspects of cultures (which I named in the beginning.)
I want to reassure you, that that the seed of dreams have been given to you for a reason.
Finally, I want to finish off by saying that, I’m personally very excited. I have a feeling that black excellence will continue to be on the rise. We will be louder. We will be higher. But we need those individuals who are restless with pent-up creativity, ideas and ambitions to unleash what is within. There are many people who have been and are becoming this right now, thus, it is certainly possible, to go beyond your medical career.
I want to reassure you, that that the seed of dreams have been given to you for a reason. And now, more than ever before, you can be given the soil, water and compost to help it grow through societies like BMS. You can ask for guidance, support and connect with those who you look up to and relate with most.
So do not limit yourself. Do not be afraid of walking on that un-walked path. You are not alone, others have done it before you and are doing it now. It’s in your genes to “do the most”. You may be creating footsteps for others to follow. Your dreams could make the world more progressive, wonderful, and light the flame of inspiration in generations to come.
Article written by Dr Victoria Onyeka, junior doctor in West Norfolk