Verna Myers, “Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Image.jpegI believe that I have overcome many obstacles not only as a woman in medicine but also as a woman of colour. It has been a long journey struggling with a sense of identity. My mum is Indian, my dad is Jamaican and I myself was born in South Africa. I have personally experienced the challenges of not always conforming to any established racial category and so feeling like the odd one out growing up in a heavily populated Caucasian community, I often asked myself: where do I belong?

For many years, I felt lost. All I wanted was to feel accepted and ultimately fit in. I used to wish I had straight hair, like the other girls at school who people perceived to be beautiful. I would do everything I could to tame my natural curly waves and I tried to distance myself from my own unique features. I look back on those times with sadness but feel proud that I have come out the other side proud to be a woman of colour, proud of my mixed heritage and the vibrancy and culture that it brings. I believe I represent the 21st century and feel passionate about uniting people of all different colours, races and religions. This has led me to be passionate about empowering BAME communities so others do not have to experience the solidarity that I felt growing up.

South-African born, I have always tried to stay connected with my roots. My work empowering black communities in Ghana won me the Pius Adesanmi Memorial Student Award for outstanding contribution to Pan-Africanism. I work with multiple charities including BAME Maternity which helps to improve outcomes for BAME women and children.

I have also be helping students with their medical school applications through my role as a Chief mentor of Medic Mentor. I was shortlisted as “Volunteer of the Year” at the ELHT Star Award ceremony where I was asked to open the ceremony by performing a poem. I have now been announced as a Rising Star Winner in the Healthcare Category shortlisted out of 1,300 applicants. I have even been featured in a Festival of Inclusion to promote a message of diversity and inclusion across the Trust.

All these things have made me a much more positive and fulfilled person and therefore I am proud to see the person I am becoming. I wish every woman would follow her dreams and not put society's ideals before her own. Everyone deserves a shot at living the life they want, and I hope that we can all celebrate and embrace each other differences as I have learned to embrace my own!

It wasn’t until recently I realised that my unique perspective on life and my cultural background are my greatest strength. It was only when I felt that I could be my authentic self that I was able to thrive, and this is why representation matters. Representation allows minorities to feel validated and allows us to express our opinions comfortably. This creates a team environment where ideas are diverse, perspectives are varied and everyone feels valued.

Its "hard to be what you can’t see"  and when people from minority groups do not see role models in a profession they wish to pursue they may internalise that such careers are not made for them and not chase their career dreams and prospects and fail to expose themselves to such possibilities. As we reflect on Black History month, it is a time to celebrate our diversity, whilst also taking time to reflect on the current challenges we face as a society. Yes, these conversations are difficult, but it’s only by discussing these issues can we incite change.

There remains an under-representation of ethnic minorities in leadership positions due to an invisible “glass-ceiling”. I would love to see more represented as leaders and I hope that one day I will be one of them. More diversity in the workplace has been shown to improve health outcomes, improve employee morale, and lead to more creative solutions and innovation. Important to note that diversity alone is not enough and that every member of the team needs to be given a voice.

Despite the adversity, I feel powerful and energised being a black woman in healthcare. I am grateful that there have been so many women before me that have paved the way so that I may have these kinds of opportunities. I believe that there is a lot more equality for black women and I am so proud to see so many truly making their mark in the medical arena, but we must strive to do more. I believe that gender, race and colour should not be a factor by which my clinical skills should come under question and as long as I stay confident in my abilities, I hope to continue to empower other BAME healthcare professionals to reach their full potential.

My main advice to anyone struggling with self-esteem and self-worth is to never let anyone discourage you or tell you can’t do something because you are more capable than you realise. Do not underestimate the impact of your voice, your perspective and your knowledge. You have the power to change the world!