Education And Debate

Name and role of Overseas Doctors Association need to be changed

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 10 September 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:645
  1. A K Bose
  1. Orrell Park Surgery, Liverpool L9 8AL Hounslow, Middlesex TW4 7RS Overseas Doctors Association, 28-32 Princess Street, Manchester M1 4LB Mettingham, Suffolk NR35 1TD Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College Hospital Medical School, London SE5 8AF 37 Shanwar, Pune 411030, India Health and Ethnicity Programme, North East and North West Thames Regional Health Authorities, London W2 3QR.

    Britain has a tradition of training doctors from other countries. Many who came to train stayed on to make up shortages in medical staffing and because of better career prospects. Some formed separate medical associations, of which the Overseas Doctors Association is the oldest and best known. The question still remains, however, whether doctors from ethnic minority groups should form their own associations. A K Bose, a general practitioner from Liverpool, wrote suggesting that it is time for change, and we invited six doctors with an interest in the subject to respond.*

    The appointment of Dr Raj Chandran of the Overseas Doctors Association to both the commission for racial equality and the General Medical Council has given the association a high profile. Yet this high profile could have its down side as it legitimises the distinction between overseas and British doctors.

    One of the main functions of the association is to combat racial discrimination. But the name of the association reemphasises the idea of a medical apartheid. This is one of its chief weaknesses. It is a recipe for professional and cultural isolation and smacks of the old and failed strategy of gaining positive discrimination on the basis of race.

    People have an inalienable right in a democratic society to aggregate on religious and cultural lines, but they must be open to external scrutiny and self examination. Such groups are important because they form stabilising links between individuals who regard themselves as different from the rest of society. If we are indeed heading for a multicultural and pluralistic society such networks of support will always be relevant, but as society becomes more complex the roles and responsibilities of such groups must change. If the association's role is limited to representing the racial identity of its members then this will hamper its role on health related issues. The association needs to be involved in defining and setting standards of care in urban areas, where many of its members practice. As professionals in the front line they are best placed to assess the needs of these areas.

    Although the work done by the association in representing its members has many invaluable strands, its role and name are ripe for change. Such changes are crucial if the association is to influence health care.

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