BAME medical students are being undermined by racism, warns BMA

Black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) medical students are being undermined by racism, the BMA has warned - as it called on medical schools to sign a charter aimed at preventing racial harassment.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)
Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)

Two in five medical students in the UK are from BAME backgrounds, but the BMA has warned that students' confidence and learning is being damaged by racism.

In a foreword to the charter published by the BMA, the association's chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul warns that BAME medical students have a moral and legal 'right to expect to learn in a climate of fairness and inclusivity'.

But he said: 'We know that sadly their experiences may not live up to expectations, with many experiencing greater levels of undermining behaviour, microaggressions, and racial harassment.'

BMA racism charter

The BMA charter sets out best practice advice and measures institutions can adopt to tackle racism and support BAME students who have experienced harassment.

Its publication comes after a joint investigation by the British Medical Journal and the BMA found that only half of 32 medical schools who responded to a freedom of information request collected data on students’ complaints about racism and racial harassment.

The charter offers advice on supporting individuals to speak out and ensuring that ‘robust processes’ for reporting and handling complaints are in place. The BMA has also encouraged medical schools to use the document to tackle racial harassment on work placements and to embed equality, diversity and inclusion across medical schools.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, who helped to launch the charter, warned that racism in UK medical schools was 'damaging the confidence' of students and affecting their learning. Meanwhile, he said such behaviours were contributing to an 'ethnic attainment gap'.

Medical schools

Findings from the joint investigation suggested high levels of under-reporting of racism, because across medical schools that collected data just 11 complaints were recorded since 2010/11. This is despite an Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry into racial harassment in UK universities finding approximately 25% of BAME students had experienced racial harassment since starting their course.

BMA medical students committee co-chair Gurdas Singh and BMA medical students committee deputy chair and welfare lead Stephen Naulls, said: ‘It is incredibly disheartening and frankly unacceptable that, after years of hard work to earn a place at medical school, medical students are still encountering racism.

‘Racial harassment is a serious barrier to attainment and it is vital therefore that medical schools, as the first port of call for prospective doctors on their career path, deal with this effectively.

‘By adopting the BMA’s charter, medical schools can instead play a key role in contributing to the institutional and cultural change that is so badly needed.’

Racial abuse

Toni Robinson, a black medical student and member of the BMA medical students committee said that ‘examples of racial abuse and disrespect are countless’.

‘I once experienced a patient calling me a ‘golliwog’ whilst on a ward round where the other students and consultant didn’t acknowledge it at all, leaving me feeling intimidated and embarrassed that none of my peers supported me,’ she said.

A spokesman for the Medical Schools Council (MSC) said: ‘MSC welcomes this guidance for medical students on racial harassment [and] plans to use the helpful recommendations in the report in our ongoing work to support medical schools in addressing the issue of the ethnic award gap.

‘One key aspect of this work is ensuring that the learning environment is supportive to all learners, no matter what their background is. Improved reporting mechanisms for racial harassment will help students feel supported and help medical schools to take action to improve the education and training they provide.’

At the BMA’s annual representative meeting (ARM) in Belfast last year, Dr Nagpaul pledged to tackle ‘all forms of discrimination’ after an independent investigation launched by the BMA found evidence of discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying.

At the same conference he announced every elected member would receive 'training on bias, equality, diversity and inclusion’.

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