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A HIDDEN HISTORY:
African Women and the
British Health Service

1930–2000

Dr Remi Odejiinmi

Dr Remi Odejiinmi was born in the UK whilst her parents had moved from Nigeria to study. Once qualified, the family returning home to work in Nigeria. In 1990, she returned to the UK as a qualified doctor. In her interview, Remi discusses her career highlights, research, and activism.

BEGINNING TO WORK IN UK HOSPITALS

[During] the first year, it was okay. I worked in a very good hospital, got very good training. It was a new area of medicine, which I hadn't originally thought I would do. But because my husband had opted to do obstetrics and gynaecology, I decided not to do that so that we wouldn't have conflict, in terms of the impact that will have on our work life balance. We also had a young child to look after. So my first year was okay. I didn't really have many expectations. I had my own home by now, a son, a husband and I was young and flexible. I worked in Kent and there was a lot of diversity. I was probably the only Black girl or Black person in the department, but there were, I think French, Italians, and so it was quite a diverse group of junior doctors."


COMMUNITY

"There wasn’t a sense of community, the hospital was extremely busy and so we worked extremely long hours, and your rest periods was your rest period. You went home and carried on doing what you had to do at home, and then you went back to work. So I wouldn't say there was a community, but we were all in it together working extremely long hours and trying to just, live. That was what it was, you just go on. It's very different now *laughs*.


CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

"I suppose it goes in peaks and troughs. We have a great opportunity to look after people who are pretty vulnerable, and it brings out the best of humankind. You have to be kind, you have to be gracious, even when you're tired, because people are dependent on your decision making on your interactions with them, for their hope. It gives you that emotional set of characteristics. It also allows you to value the opportunity to make a difference. We spend most of our time at work, so you know you're making a difference. It can also make you quite determined medicine is a tough call and there are lots of exams. There's a lot of hard work involved in it. The hours are just not enough in the day to do what you have to do. You do have to become quite discipline and if you're not careful, you can become too disciplined. You may lose that emotional context because  you become quite task oriented. I think this season of COVID has made a difference to a lot of us, because you need to have the grace to be able to look after your patients. They're looking at you for hope and it really does humble you because people are there. They're at the lowest points right now in this season. So, it brings up the best of who you are. It’s character building."


DISCRIMINATION

"I think discrimination still happens quite a bit. I think for me personally, I wasn't aware of it coming from Nigeria, so I didn't think about it. But as the years have gone by, you begin to look back and think, 'Oh, Hmm…' And I think despite the fact that we talk about equality, diversity and inclusion, there's still a lot of discrimination. I did an MBA and graduated last year. My research was on career progression for BME nurses in my hospital [and] in my Trust. This wasn't information that was readily available. The higher you went up the ladder, the less diverse it was. So, if you looked at our board [and] our executive team, you could see that we weren't really diverse. Now why is that? So there is still some degree of discrimination being unintentionally, [or] intentionally practiced. It exists."


ACTVISIM

"When I go to places, I feel that I not just represent myself, but I also represent my group as a BME. I will highlight that as a woman of faith, an older woman, I look at what my purpose is in life here on the earth and I use the opportunities that I have for more than myself. That's the way I see it."

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