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News Racism in Medicine

Tackling racism in medical schools: five minutes with . . . Gurdas Singh

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m583 (Published 13 February 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m583
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. The BMJ

The co-chair of the BMA’s Medical Students Committee talks about why students need guidance on preventing and dealing with racial harassment

“After doing some research and talking to students we realised that medical students needed advice on handling incidents of racism and racial harassment, because these types of incidents were under-reported and we needed more transparency around them.

“It’s important for students to know that racism happens throughout the NHS and not just at medical schools. And it’s prevalent. The experiences that we’ve heard about have been so powerful, and it’s important to recognise that this is a serious problem that needs to be confronted. To students, I would say that the important thing is how an incident of harassment makes you feel. It’s not about the intent of the perpetrator: if your feelings are hurt then that needs to be recognised.

“From the BMJ/BMA investigation we know that medical schools are not engaging with this problem effectively, and the systems that they have in place for recording complaints may not be specific enough for picking up racial harassment. Neither are they dealing with complaints well enough.

“The BMA’s charter1 calls for medical schools to commit to taking action to prevent and deal effectively with racial harassment on campus and in work placements. It asks for students to be supported to speak out and for better processes for reporting and handling complaints.

“We know that academics will have to undertake diversity and inclusion training as part of their jobs, but that’s not enough. We also know that some medical schools have a designated person responsible for dealing with diversity and inclusion—but I think that it’s the responsibility of everybody, not just one person.

“Students also need to learn how to be active bystanders so that they can call out and support their fellow students if they witness a racially motivated incident. Many times I’ve experienced racial micro-aggression, and it can be very subtle. A simple apology is sometimes all that’s required. While formal investigations can be required in serious cases, it has to be recognised that these can drag on and can negatively affect someone’s mental health. If you cut it short and call it out for what it is and apologise then that may be sufficient.

“The BMA’s charter very much fits in with the agenda of equality, diversity, and inclusion across the learning environment. The best thing we can all do is to start having conversations with staff at medical schools and on placements about how students feel and then discuss with them what they see as the solutions. Students are passionate about this, and they have some great ideas. I think that talking and hearing stories, and actually picking up on the emotion attached to incidents of racial harassment, is what really brings home how important this is.

“Now that we’ve raised the problem of under-reporting we need to keep up the momentum and keep highlighting the specific problems to get more people involved in speaking about them. We need to teach students the skills they need to face the problem of racism so that they can carry the techniques with them throughout their career and hopefully make a difference for the next generation.”

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