top of page
African women project logo jpg_edited_ed

A HIDDEN HISTORY:
African Women and the
British Health Service

1930–2000

Terese Emelle

Dr Teresa Emelle is a consultant psychiatrist and an EMDR therapist from Nigeria. In her interview, she discusses what drew her to psychiatry, the training process, finding a job after relocating to the UK, and the highlights of her career. Teresa also shares the advice she has for the black British community.

EARLY LIFE & FAMILY

"My cultural background is Nigerian, West African. My parents were immigrants in the sixties, but incidentally, my dad actually came into the UK in the ’50s to study medicine. He was one of the first west Africans who came in here and studied medicine at the University of Liverpool. He finished in 1959 and he went back to the country. Got married. Had two children; my older brother, my oldest sister. At some point he came back to the UK to do his specialist training. So around about that time, I then got born in 1966. So he was working in the NHS and interestingly, we lived in England. I was born in London, but we moved to Scotland. I started primary school in Glasgow because he was working at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary at the time."


MOTIVATION TO WORK IN HEALTHCARE

"I went to the University of Nigeria. I studied Medicine. When I finished my medical training, I studied at another university, the University of Lagos. I did an MsC in Clinical Psychology because at that time I was formulating my intention to work as a psychiatrist. I was mindful of the fact that there was a lot of stigma around psychiatry here in the UK, but there's even more stigma back home in western Africa. So, a lot of people were surprised that I wanted to be a psychiatrist."


"Somewhere along the line, in medical school, psychiatric patients seemed to be drawn to me. So whenever I would go, if I went to the ward to do the rounds, they were drawn to me. I started wondering 'Why are they picking on me in that sort of manner? What makes them think I can help them? I’m just a student. I’m not even qualified. Even at that, there’s other students there, but they’re always coming to me'. My other classmates started saying 'Maybe you’re meant to do psychiatry, maybe there’s something about you that these patients, they like you. There’s something about you'.


CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

"My highlights as a health professional really are my successes. Because my successes are predominantly just seeing people recover, seeing people get better, seeing people get their lives back. Seeing people come to me, [or to the] nurses [and] managers and say “I’m so grateful for the help I’ve got from Dr Emelle, I’m so grateful for what she’s done, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her”. I’ve had a lot of people say “I would have been dead”, “I would have committed suicide”, “I saw no hope for the future, I was completely helpless, but now I feel like I’ve got my life back”. Hearing that over and over again is the biggest reward and the biggest success."


ADVICE

"Don't settle. Don't just assume that because you're from this background or that background in life is going to be difficult or the opportunities are not open to you. Because again, as Bob Marley said in his song, one of his lyrics, he said, "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds". That's a lyric in one of his songs."

bottom of page