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A HIDDEN HISTORY:
African Women and the
British Health Service

1930–2000

Dr Olu Wilkey

Pediatric Medicine

Dr Olu Wilkey moved from Nigeria as a child with her family. During her early childhood, she spent time in a private fostering arrangement. This was a commonly chosen form of childcare for African parents studying or training in Britain during the mid-century. She is a Consultant paediatrician, and specialises in working with children with Sickle cell disease. In her interview, she discusses growing up in London, her university career and progress into healthcare, and the Nigerian community in Britain.

Interview highlights:

CAREER

"I was really working very hard as a paediatrician, looking after patients with sickle cell. I needed help. I was just getting on with the job and I was really bogged down by doing it. It was really busy. But I tried to do the best for my patients that I possibly could. This went on for a couple of years, because I was on my own as the only lead paediatrician. Then I then put my head above the parapet and I could see all the other specialities in the hospital, like Diabetes, and where they look after long term conditions, like Epilepsy, and Asthma. These services had several people – a consultant, a paediatrician, another consultant, a nurse specialist, a psychologist, a data manager, a dietitian, and all these staff working under them. In my department, it was just me and my nurse".


IDENTITY

"My children regret not learning my language because my husband and I come from different parts of Nigeria, so we always spoke English at home. And so, they feel like they have missed out because they can’t speak either language. But in terms of Nigeran food, they eat Nigerian food, they have Nigeran friends, Ghanaian friends, and we have friends and family [around], so we are always interactive. "


CHILDHOOD & EXPERIENCE IN FOSTER CARE 

"I remember not seeing my parents all the time. I was used to them and I used to called them (foster parents) 'Mum and Dad', so I was with them for a long time. Probably for a couple of years, at least until I was like 4 or 5. My parents used to say that when they picked me up I would cry because I didn’t want to go home with them, which is funny. I only probably went there for a weekend and they would bring me back, because they were both studying and working. There are certain things you just remember. I remember my favourite biscuits were bourbon biscuits. I remember that they (foster parents) had two sons and I remember that I really liked the place. I loved being there."

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