top of page
African women project logo jpg_edited_ed

A HIDDEN HISTORY:
African Women and the
British Health Service

1930–2000

Funmi Oke

Midwifery & Paediatric Nursing

Funmi Oke is a midwife and pediatric nurse who migrated to the UK from Nigeria in 1983. In her interview she discusses migration, motherhood, her identity as an African woman, discrimination, and the highlights of her career in the NHS.

Interview highlights:

MIGRATION

"I was actually brought up in Nigeria. I got married then with my husband and my daughter, we moved back to UK in August, 1983. I was about 24, 25 when I came to UK."


"Before I left Nigeria, I was qualified as a teacher. But mind you, when I was little I really wanted to be a nurse. Coming to the UK, I had to try to get more qualifications and to develop my knowledge before anything else. That was the reason why I went to college and from college, I went to university in Hull."


MOTIVATION FOR BECOMING A MIDWIFE

"My auntie is, she was, I mean, bless her. She died a year ago. She was actually a midwife. Because of that I had the inspiration of becoming a midwife myself. That was the reason why I thought this is an opportunity for me to pursue my career in nursing when I go to UK. That was the reason why I went into nursing in January 1988."


RACISM

"I finished work one day, I went to the shopping mall in Hull. I was coming back, going into my car. The lady said to me, 'You black F–word, go back to your country'. This was '97 or 1998. 'Go back to your country, we don't want you' and I looked at her and said 'Thank you. Do you know what? I pay tax in this country. I work for NHS in this country'. And I just walked away."


IDENTITY

"Of course you need, you, you need to celebrate your identity. You come from a country and you need to let people know. Yeah, no matter why, you know what you live in UK, you are still in Nigerian as well as a British. So you do have the rights to celebrate and therefore people to know who your identity is, you know?


DISCRIMINATION & RACISM IN HER CAREER

"During training, I had to deliver 50 babies. 50 babies and I could remember one of them refused. She did not want me to deliver her baby. She didn't give any reason but she refused. Deep down, you know, the reason why she doesn't want you to do it but. that's how life goes."


"After we qualified, it was only me that they didn't get a job as a midwife. I tried, I did so many interviews, I participated, I did a lot of presentations and in the end, why? One of their reason was she's too experienced, she's too confident – and I thought I have to be confident to do this job, given the skills. I mean, this case, I actually [went] to the court for discrimination. They actually got a lawyer for me to follow this case. But in the end, [they said] they cannot prove that it was discrimination. So unfortunately, I abandoned midwifery and I went straight back to general nursing. I started doing  nursing with pediatrics, for so many years. But, this is really funny, during my general nursing training, [I met] the people who tried to discriminate against me in midwifery again. Some of them actually worked in the pediatric ward. I tried to build the relationship that we didn't have before. It build the bridge and one of them now is one of my best friends."


CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

"The highlight of my career is I’ve achieved a lot with what I’ve done with the NHS. Starting from being a registered nurse, going into be a midwife, and again to be a registered sick nurse [for] babies, which is paediatric care, and to go and do NICU. I’ve achieved a lot, which I'm really happy about. I'm proud of my career and I'm proud that I went into nursing. No matter what your challenges you've been through or what people throw at you, I'm happy that I achieved it and that's the best, you know, career. I can recommend it to anybody."


ADVICE TO YOUNG PEOPLE

"The only advice I would give is keep your head down, do what you want to do, go for what your dream is all about. Go for it and achieve your dream. Don't let anybody discourage you from doing any what you want to do. I mean, they can say to you 'oh you’re not good enough'. What you have to have in your mind is, 'I’m going to prove them wrong', no matter what colour I am."

bottom of page