Q&A with Afiniki Akanet as part of Black History Month
Black History Month is a celebration of achievements and contributions by the black community that is celebrated worldwide. The awareness month first launched in the 1980s to challenge racism and educate people on black history that was not taught in schools.
We spoke to Dr Afiniki Akanet, one of Care UK’s registrars for Warwickshire, who told us about what Black History Month and working in healthcare as a black woman means to her.
1. What made you want to get into the healthcare industry?
I wanted to become a doctor from the age of five, even though there were no medical doctors in my family. There was something inspiring about doctors I had seen that made me want to be like them. I was very interested in learning about the human body and how that knowledge can be used to treat or prevent disease. My dream changed over the years from surgery to general practice, but I am still enjoying being a doctor.
2. What was your experience of getting into the industry? How easy did you find it?
I would have a more interesting answer if I had worked in another field before healthcare, but getting into healthcare for me was really about getting the qualifications I needed to do the job I wanted. It was not an easy journey. As an international medical student in the UK, I had to overcome several challenges, but I believe those challenges have helped me to become the resilient and compassionate doctor I am today. I shared experiences from my difficult student years in my first book, Fortitude, The Story of a Nigerian Girl in the UK, which is available on Amazon. Apart from the mental strain of exams and gaining qualifications, everyday life as a healthcare worker can be challenging. It was and is not easy, but some of us were made for it and hope to keep carrying on, by God’s grace.
3. What do you love about working in the healthcare industry?
Working in general practice has been the best part of medicine for me, and I feel privileged to be able to do it as my specialty henceforth. I love that I get to speak with people about very personal issues, sharing their highs and lows, from cradle to grave. I love that there is still some respect out there for doctors, and many patients still value our advice. I love seeing patients get better, and helping patients deal with and manage difficult situations we cannot change. I love sharing information and helping patients to understand their bodies and conditions better, so they can prevent illness and complications. I love the comradery in healthcare and how most of us look out for each other. I also love the fact that I am getting paid to do something that actually gives me satisfaction and fulfilment.
4. What struggles have you faced or believe black people are still facing in today’s healthcare industry?
As satisfying as healthcare work is, we all get days when we feel drained, under-appreciated and over-worked. Some of the struggles I have faced are mainly to do with balancing working in a 24-hour healthcare system with having time for myself and my family, sorting out ‘out-of-hours’ childcare to allow me to pursue my career goals, sometimes feeling inadequate because we can never know/solve everything, juggling doing a good job with providing evidence of that in my eportfolio. I know that my experiences have not been the worst. Some black people in the healthcare industry still struggles to win the trust or confidence of patients or colleagues who may already believe certain stereotypes about them, some have to work harder than the average Joe to prove their worth to certain managers, and while there are so many measures to prevent this, some still experience difficulty in accessing higher positions in the healthcare sector. Not to mention the additional mental and financial struggles that migrant healthcare workers face because of ever-increasing visa renewal fees, changing immigration laws, minimum earning requirements, lack of nearby family members to provide emotional support and help with childcare, and communication difficulties in the workplace.
5. What does Black History Month mean to you?
I like that Black History Month is October because it gives us something to focus on other than Halloween! For me, it is a time to reflect on what it means to be black or ‘coloured’, as some of my elderly patients still call me. My birth country, Nigeria, celebrates Independence Day on October 1, so I like to be able to share this with my Black-British children. As someone who spent the first 16 years of my life in Africa, I am confident in my African identity and celebrate my heritage. I know that for many who may have had a more difficult experience of being black in the western world, it is a time to reflect on how far we have come and how much more needs to change. I think it is a great time to remind people of inspirational black people and challenge us all to do better, whatever our skin colour.
6. Was there a black figure that inspired you to get into healthcare?
I loved reading the book, Gifted Hands, by Dr Ben Carson, as a young girl in Nigeria. I actually bought a copy for my daughter when she was 2 – I hope I am able to find it for her when she is old enough to read it! I have since met many inspirational doctors and nurses – black, brown and white – who have motivated me to continue my medical training and stay in the profession. Dr Carson did not just inspire me to become a doctor, but also a writer. It is amazing how his book has inspired people like me around the world who have never even met him. We see and learn so much working in healthcare, and it will be a shame to take all that wisdom and experience to the grave – writing gives me a chance to reach people I may never meet. Looking up to male doctors as a young woman can feel daunting when I also have a young family to care for. I have learned over the years to manage my time well so I can enjoy medicine, writing and other interests, even as a wife and mother. Some of my tips are shared in the book, Life Without Coffee, Choosing Happiness Over Stress. Successful black women like Oprah were also a source of inspiration for me as a young girl with big dreams and a small budget.
7. Can you tell us about some of the black figures that inspire you today?
I am struggling to think of black people specifically, because I take inspiration from wherever it comes. My five and three year old children are currently my most exciting inspirational black people. Children say it as it is, and I have been learning so much from them recently. When my daughter was in nursery, a child asked her why she was black, and her answer amazed me. We had never discussed skin colour before with her, and other people felt offended for her by the question, but my daughter simply replied, “That’s how I was made”. My children often say things and ask questions that make me re-evaluate my life, perspective and choices, they motivate me to maintain a good work-life balance, and inspire me to be a wife and doctor they can be proud of. The sooner we get comfortable in our skins, work together and utilise our own strengths no matter how different we look or feel, the better for everyone.
Celebrating equality and diversity at Care UK
Watch Ade Adeniyi, Medical Director and Consultant Urologist at our Emersons Green Treatment Centre, deliver a powerful speech on the importance of equality as part of our 2019 Black History Month celebrations.