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Student Life

Reporting racism on the wards

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 20 December 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5178
  1. Flavia Munn, freelance journalist
  1. London, UK

Racist remarks from patients and colleagues are not uncommon in the NHS, but there is a lack of support and guidance for students on how to report incidents

From remarks about their origin to outright verbal abuse, many black and other minority ethnic (BME) medical students have personal experience of racism on the wards. Some of the abuse comes from patients, but some also comes from colleagues, including those in senior positions.

Although some BME students report becoming reluctantly “acclimatised to” or excusing these interactions, medical diversity experts say that these incidents need to be better handled to create a culture of zero tolerance within the workplace. A third (34%) of UK medical students (13 563 individuals) are BME, according to the General Medical Council.1

Unpublished research findings from University College London show that at least a third of 140 senior medical students at the university who replied to a survey had witnessed some form of racism from staff or other students.

Student experiences

A student of African descent told Student BMJ that a lack of support from her consultant left her in tears after she was “degraded” by a racist remark from a patient during a clinical placement.

The student and five of her colleagues had gone to examine a patient along with their supervising consultant on a hospital ward in Scotland. “Halfway through, the consultant asked us some clinical questions and we all took part. A patient pointed a finger at me and said the words ‘she likes chocolate, surely she must like chocolate this one,’ followed by a laugh,” the student said.

The incident went largely unacknowledged at the time, apart from a few surprised looks and a nervous glance and smile from the consultant, leaving the student feeling “uncomfortable and humiliated.” There was no debrief afterwards. “I felt …

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