Med School Racism: Behind the Scenes With Amber and Simi

If you have been scrolling through Instagram in recent weeks, it will have been hard to miss the growing success of Amber and Simi’s new campaign. Their page, @medschool_racism, has impressed us with its reach and engagement, publishing stories from medical students and healthcare professionals from the UK and beyond. The pair have created a platform which is drawing attention to medical students’ experiences with racism, racial harassment and microaggressions.

We asked ICSM’s home-grown activists to introduce themselves and the project.

Gazette: Thank you for letting us feature you in The Gazette. Could you tell us a bit about yourselves and the page?

Amber: I’m Amber and I’m in fourth year doing my BSc in Management. This summer, I was really moved by the tragic death of George Floyd and the subsequent progression of the Black Lives Matter campaign across the world. After talking, Simi and I decided we really wanted to contribute to this by initiating conversations around race in medicine, which is one of the main aims of our Instagram page, @medschool_racism. 

Simi: Hi, I’m Simi and I’m about to go into third year. A lot of discussion around social change prompted Amber and me to start looking at racism in a context that applies to us, but it also helped us realise there is a lot that we ourselves don’t know. So apart from sharing stories on the page, we ourselves have been learning so much.

A&S: @medschool_racism is essentially an online platform where healthcare students and professionals (doctors, nurses, etc.) can anonymously share their experiences of racial harassment. On the page, we also share useful, informative posts and relevant infographics on our stories to tackle racism in medicine.

G: You’ve grown quite a following in a relatively short space of time. Why do you think people connected so well with the project and where do you see it going in future?

A&S: When we started the page, we knew that encountering racism in medical school and other healthcare settings was fairly common. What we didn’t bargain for was how rampant healthcare racism truly was and we think that’s why people connected with it so well. I think our audience was just as shocked as us hearing some of these stories, but we think the page also comes across as a kind of safe space. The community is now provoking discussions around these issues which people are usually silent about; now there is a platform and opportunity for that to be unpacked. 

We try to group stories into common themes so that the same kinds of incidents are spread out across the page. Our following is also extremely diverse so we try to post content that everyone can relate to and have a voice on. 

Currently, we’re trying to expand the page. It started out as a little project that we both wanted to do, but now we want to take it beyond this Instagram page. We want to grow the community and also find ways to tackle the issues and recurring themes that we are noticing. We know we can’t do it on our own which is why we are currently trying to expand our team.

G: What do you hope your audience will take away from reading the stories you share?

A&S: We hope for people to take away four main things from engaging with our content:

  1. Realise it’s a lot more common than you think
  2. Stop normalising incidents of racial harassment 
  3. Recognise when these incidents are taking place in front of you
  4. Starting conversations with those around you about race, racial harassment and how to deal with it.

G: How do you think the medical school and/or placement providers could improve their prevention of and responses to these incidents?

A&S: First of all, both medical schools and placement providers need to have robust reporting systems for these incidents. However, reporting them is simply not enough. They also need to have measures in place to follow up these student complaints with the student involved and the perpetrators so that these incidents do not repeat. 

There also needs to be more detailed training available for members of staff and placement providers on how to act as an effective bystander to these incidents, and how to deal with harassment after it happens. Possible options we’ve discussed with our followers include a daily debrief with a ‘designated neutral’ member of staff, or some form of counselling.

G: Finally, what advice would you give to people who’ve experienced racism at medical school, but don’t feel ready or able to speak out about it?

A&S: We understand that it’s difficult to speak up about racial harassment and it can be so difficult to share your experience. However, sharing does make it easier. Apart from reporting, which we strongly encourage anyone who has experienced racism to do, it’s important to have someone to confide in. Unpacking these experiences to ensure that you can move on and remove the lasting impact it was intended to have is so beneficial in the long run. It’s difficult to experience and even harder to speak about, but you can take your time.

If you have a story to share or you would like to read more, you can find Amber and Simi’s page on Instagram @medschool_racism.

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