Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Series: My Dental Experience as a British Asian Student

Next in the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Series, is an anonymous post from a dental student...

I have been inspired by recent events, not least the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests, to write about my experiences as a dental student from an ethnic minority background. I am not black, and so cannot claim to share the experiences of my black peers; but I can speak about the knowledge and experiences of those close to me and my own, as British Indians working throughout the years in the dental field. 

During my first degree, I formed fantastic friendship groups of multiple races, ethnicity and personalities! Going to a university that a member of my family had been to years prior, I was aware of the previous racial attitudes, although I didn’t experience any. Towards the end of my time there, I discovered that some medical students had conducted a play, inviting many black students, and ridiculed one of the only black staff members, making him into a hellacious character. 

Dental School

I was elated when I got into dental school. I was in love with the university that had given me an offer. It didn’t matter that it was far away from home. The university is based in a multicultural area, but I noticed a lack of representation of tutors from the BAME community. The majority were White, with a few Asian and one black member of staff. My friends and I agreed that there was a lack of black dental tutors that students could look up to. 

The first barrier I faced was being told by some senior students, before I went on clinic, that ‘they might not like you, because you’re a brown woman’. As startling as that was, I found my first and second years more difficult than some of my peers. I felt like I had to work harder, that I had to have better knowledge and put in systems that my colleagues didn’t have to think about. This was reinforced when my housemates voiced the supervisors were much harsher on me than my colleagues. 

Another incident which pops into mind was with a temporary BAME tutor, who I didn’t get along with. Along with the three other BAME students in my cohort, her tone left my peer with anxiety attacks. It was mentioned by a few of my non-BAME friends that it was odd because they hadn’t been targeted. Despite this, I did not want to conclude that these acts were racially motivated, or play the ‘race card’, when actually, it may have been my own short comings leaving me in that position. 

Although the university has great BAME representation from visitor speakers, I did notice a lack of engaging equality and diversity training. In situations with patients passing unsavoury comments It strikes me that I still wouldn’t know what to do. 

Coming into my fifth year as a dental student, I feel like I am as equally respected as my peers, and I work with a great team of students and tutors. However, I do feel like I had to work harder to get there. 

Other's Experiences

Situations like this are far from isolated. On talking with colleagues within the profession, I heard of incidents such as that of a dental nurse who recalls being qualified in the eighties only to earn less than a white trainee nurse at their practice and attending Christmas parties where offensive songs were sung about them, the only BAME person in the room. Even now, they’ve seen patients refuse to see dentists of colour, witnessed staff in practices disproportionately assigning complex cases to BAME dentists in lieu of white colleagues. 

In another such account, racism was witnessed even at the university a dental care professional attended. Students were given a scenario to hire someone. One group said they would refuse to hire the person in the scenario because he was black. This had no consequence from the tutor. The dental professional recalls fellow trainees, asking how they would know if their hands were clean, given how dark their skin is. Although having worked in more Cosmopolitan parts of London, they have still experienced a bullying mentality in the wider team. They have encountered handing out CV’s and being rejected almost automatically, despite their credentials and vast experience. 

Looking back at these experiences, it is easy to pick them apart and offer an argument both for and against barriers that these GDC registrants have faced. To me there are no positive experiences in the accent of being a BAME member of the dental profession, because any experience that is not negative, should be normal. 

A senior community dental officer that studied in one of the universities I attended, had experiences (that I hope) would be challenged in their midst, if they were to happen today. They were told when they were studying that they would have a hard time, and to keep their head down. They were picked-on throughout their degree, and at one point was told by a lecturer to smell a pot of eugenol, which would remind them of their ancestors. They were almost failed in a number of modules and when questioned, was told that the supervisor would lower their grades even more if he wished. They witnessed every year, only 1-2 students from BAME backgrounds, and anymore would drop out, due to a high failure rate. They were a good student but when applying for a hospital post, was told by a consultant that they would not get the job because they were black. Despite this, they thrive as a community dentist. However, recent racist remarks are still abundant within the team. It is clear from this, how far we have come as a profession, but how far we still need to go. Experiences like this can affect the mental health of dental professionals, as well as squash their potential. 

How Can We Address The Problem?

This post was difficult to write because there is such a wealth of anecdotal evidence, but little official redress. It is clear to me, that there is a problem here. One of conscious and unconscious bias, of casual discrimination affecting generations already burdened by historic and political barriers. I would advocate open discussion and regular checks to ensure that our own internal biases are not hindering our opportunities and the opportunities of those around us. As a profession, we need to come together to enable these barriers to be minimised as much as possible. 

On reflection here are some areas which could be targeted for improvement within the dental team: 
  • BAME positions on student committees at all universities, who can be a figure of support for students and ensure equal representation throughout the course. 
  • Training for dental students that enables them to deal with racism in practice. 
  • Representative and diverse academic staff. 
  • Generalised active discussion about barriers and feelings amongst the BAME community within the profession. 
  • Internal bias workshops taught in healthcare university courses and in practices. 
One trend I have noticed is that of not questioning, in fear of having that opportunity taken away, or raising your concerns may amplify the barriers against you. Many of the same barriers which exist within society, exist within the dental profession, and these are the things that cannot be changed unless every member of the profession steps in to stand for change. Thus, I invite you all, to address your biases and stand for change. 

Do you want to write a post for the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion series? Please get in touch! Whether you're a dental student, foundation dentist, dental core trainee, associate, dental nurse, therapist I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

You Might Also Like


Top Categories