Education And Debate

In an ideal world minority associations would not be needed, but this isn't an ideal world

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.309.6955.645b (Published 10 September 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:645
  1. S Kumar

    In an ideal world, where there was fairness and equity at all levels, there would be no need for associations such as the BMA or the Overseas Doctors Association. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world and therefore need representation in our social and professional lives.

    The number of doctors from commonwealth countries coming to Britain for postgraduate training peaked during the 1950s to 1970s. The lack of organised training programmes meant that many of them ended up in district hospitals or inner city general practices with heavy work loads and limited opportunities for further training. They were used as extra pairs of hands and became scapegoats for deficiencies in the system. In May 1975 a group of overseas doctors formed the Overseas Doctors Association.

    Critics of the association complain that it represents membership interests solely on the basis of racial identity. They suggest that it should be involved instead in health issues such as collecting morbidity data in inner city areas. They also say that by its very name the association promotes isolation.

    But the aims of the association, as laid down in its constitution, are to look after the honour, interests, and wellbeing of the medical and dental professions in general and of professionals who trained outside Britain in particular. The association does not want to take over the responsibilities of the Department of Health in researching inner city problems. Moreover, overseas doctors already suffer professional isolation - the name of our association is not to blame for this.

    British society is still prejudiced against minorities, although there has been much open discussion of the problem. The prejudice was made abundantly clear by research published recently on how doctors with foreign sounding names had less chance of being invited for a job interview.1

    I do not suggest that the association should work in competition with the BMA. Its work should be complementary. In turn the BMA should make use of the association's large membership, which accounts for 20-25% of Britain's doctors.

    I recall the comments made 10 years ago by Patrick Jenkins, then minister of health, during one of our regular meetings with staff at the Department of Health. He said that such an association was badly needed on the British medicopolitical scene and that if it had not already been formed the British government would have had to create one.

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