A guest blog from Alicia Browne, podiatry student at the University of Southampton and one of the #150Leaders.
Working within a healthcare environment as a student for the first time can be extremely daunting: integrating into a new team, learning more about the rules and regulations of the practice, and trying to recall university lectures so that you can take a proactive approach during the placement. In addition to this, it is very common that ethnic minority students, including myself, will experience adversity, segregation, and racial abuse whilst embarking on clinical placements.
Growing up in the diverse, multicultural city of London enabled me to comfortably embrace who I am and embrace my culture and heritage without fear of being judged or discriminated against. Moving to a new city and starting my podiatry placement as a black, female student in a predominately white area and clinical practice was challenging. I was constantly reminded that I was different – a black woman and not like the rest of the medical staff.
Having to listen to ignorant conversations and comments about my skin colour and background by both patients and the staff was overwhelming. Patients were hesitant to be treated by me and supervisors and staff often overlooked or brushed off inappropriate jokes and questions directed at me about my skin colour.
I remember assisting the podiatrist during clinical practice and hearing a derogatory racist terminology used by the patient whilst having a conversation with the podiatrist. At that moment, I didn’t know how to react as I was in a state of shock. Part of me didn’t want to continue the treatment that I was assisting with, part of me wanted to educate the patient, and part of me wanted to break down and cry. Following this incident, the lack of support from the podiatrist left me emotionally distressed for weeks and I questioned whether I even wanted to continue my degree in this profession.
After confiding in my peers for support and advice, I have learned that within healthcare we are still very unclear about handling racism and giving support to students who may experience racism on their placements. There will always be racist and ignorant patients in our healthcare setting, however, it is the responsibility of all healthcare professionals to call this out.
I’ve outlined some ways on how this can be improved:
- It is important that the incidents are acknowledged – what was said or done? If it was said to you, how would you feel?
- It is important to immediately shut down any inappropriate comments made by patients and remind them that discriminatory or racist comments are not tolerated.
- Placement supervisors and university support staff should ensure that they speak to the student to really understand how this may have impacted them. Something you may consider small could cause long-lasting emotional damage and be very detrimental to the student’s mental health.
- Ensure that the right support is put into place for the student following this incident; this may be some time off from the placement or some counselling if necessary.
- It is important that each trust appoints a person who takes on the responsibility of assisting with the student’s recovery post-incident and can reach out for any external support for the student, if necessary.
Follow Alicia on LinkedIn.