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Racism within the NHS : the story of Dr Simi Adedeji

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

Today we share the story of Dr Simi Adedeji, a former Surgeon, GP and Cosmetic Doctor who shared her experience of racism within the NHS via a YouTube video back in June. At the time of writing, her video has had 343,693 views and has been liked by almost 10,000 people showing how much her story resonated with people.

In her video titled “Black People Too Dirty to Work in NHS | I Refuse to See a Black Doctor, Racism in Medicine”, Dr Adedeji shares some of her experiences of racism so far, telling viewers that she is expecting more to happen. She also warns viewers that despite how unbelievable the stories in the videos might sound, they are all true and she unapologetically uses the same foul language she was subject to in order to make viewers appreciate how bad the racism she has experienced has been.

Before sharing her stories, Dr Adedeji talks about how she was an exemplary student at the Imperial College, “one of the most prestigious schools in the country”, striving to do the best that she could do and be that best that she could be, earning a First Class BSc degree and a distinction in surgery. And yet, to some people, that meant nothing and she was just another Black person who was neither worthy of acknowledgement or praise. She had to face negative unfounded assumptions such “She’s not as good as me” or “She’s disgusting” which were overtly racist and totally uncalled for.

Dr Semi Adedeji sharing her story on YouTube

Dr Adedeji started experiencing racism at work as soon as she started her first job as a doctor. She tells a story that happened to her few weeks after she qualified, when she was on call. She recalls how an Asian man would not let her assess him simply on the basis of her skin colour. This happened despite Dr Adedeji wearing surgical scrubs, a stethoscope around her neck and a badge clearly stating that she was a doctor. As soon as she approached the patient’s bed to see him, he became agitated and his response was “I don’t want to see you, I don’t want to see you”. Dr Adedeji tried her best to explain to him that she was a qualified doctor who was sent by the nurses to see him, he would still not let her assess him and asked one of the white nurses to see another doctor. Even after the white nurse told him that there was no other doctor available to see him, he wouldn’t let Dr Adedeji check him, restating that he didn’t want to see her. In the end, Dr Adedeji had to treat the patient via the nurse by asking the nurse to pass information from the patient to her as a way to check him. This is not acceptable behaviour from a patient. A qualified healthcare practitioner’s abilities should not be questioned simply because of the colour of their skin. Unreasonable requirements such as asking for a white doctor simply should not be allowed and if anything should be sanctioned. Dr Adedeji was only 24 at the time this incident happened. Has she not been passionate and dedicated to the profession, this could have potentially discouraged her from pursuing a career as a doctor.

Dr Adedeji then went on to recall her worst experience as a hospital doctor which happened when she had to look after a South African farmer who came to the hospital for surgery. At the time she was a surgical trainee and only had to speak to the patient  as a final check before his surgery. As she entered the ward, Dr Adedeji was warned by the the Sister of the ward that the patient she was about to see was extremely racist. Dr Adedeji didn’t think much of it at first as she’s experienced racism many times by then but as soon as she approached the patient, she noticed an instant change in his behaviour. He was using a passive aggressive tone with her, asking overtly racist questions such as “Are you the cleaner?” (despite Dr Adedeji being clearly dressed as a doctor and carrying a stethoscope), enquiring where she was originally from and making racist comments such “People in Africa live in trees”. He went as far as telling Dr Adedeji that he was really surprised she worked in the NHS “because the NHS is supposed to be a clean place”. He said all of this to her with a smile whilst maintaining a calm and pleasant tone and went on to shamelessly say that he “didn’t want to be treated by a Black doctor”. By then, Dr Adedeji was understandably furious but had to keep “professional, calm and compassionate” despite having her feelings hurt and clearly being victim of racism. Again, this is not acceptable behaviour from a patient towards a qualified healthcare practitioner. Nobody should receive this level of racist abuse whilst doing their job neither should anyone feel obliged to practice kindness and compassion towards people who are so culturally insensitive and ignorant. At the time of the event, Dr Adedeji didn’t want to make a big deal of it as she was still a junior doctor and felt like she might not be supported. This is not right. Racism in any shape of form IS a big deal and all staff should be supported if they experience it. Nobody should feel uncomfortable addressing racist behaviour from patients.

“ I don’t want to be treated by a Black doctor”

Towards the end of the video, Dr Adedeji shares a story that happened to her dad, who used to be a doctor as well. She recalls how a group of young boys living opposite the surgery her dad used to work at always used to shout racist abuse at him. One day, a group of 12 white boys attacked her dad and beat him up really badly. Luckily a white neighbour intervened and the boys left Dr Adedeji’s dad alone. The neighbour was the one who called the Police and took the initiative to find the names of Dr Adedeji’s dad attackers so he could get justice from the Police. 30 odd years later, when Dr Adedeji started working at the same practice her dad used to work at, she met with the neighbour who saved her dad’s life.  As he recognised her, he mentioned that story to her so she had the chance to thank him personally for standing up for racism and injustice that day by rescuing her dad. Dr Adedeji felt really emotional sharing that story as it affected her greatly as a kid. She shared that story as an example of how important allyship from white people is and to encourage people to support the movement even if they are note Black.  She advised everyone watching the video to not remain silent in the face of racism whether it is overt or subtle. She carries on emphasising that staying quiet is what enables racist behaviours to continue, adding that in 2020, Black people shouldn’t still have stories like this to tell.  

Despite how challenging her experience as a Black healthcare practitioner has been, Dr Adedeji shared her hope of seeing change happening and wanted to be part of that change by raising awareness about racism within the NHS through her personal experience. She urges everyone no matter what the colour of their skin is to speak out and stand up against racism, whatever shape it takes. Dr Adedeji’s story is a reminder that the fight against racism both within and outside the NHS is everybody’s responsibility. It shouldn’t be left to the people experiencing racism to deal with it and it’s vital now more than ever that we all play our part to eradicate it so the next generation doesn’t have to share the same stories as Dr Adedeji over and over again.

You can watch Dr Adedeji’s video on YouTube here.

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