"these ‘subtle racist’ interactions cause significant distress."
British Asian doctors may help patients daily but they also face racism frequently.
TV medic Dr Amir Khan is proud of his British-Pakistani heritage but he previously revealed that he has faced prejudice.
He shared: “I think anyone from a historically marginalised background has encountered some form of prejudice and racism and I have certainly encountered that throughout my life growing up and even now.
“I’ve had patients refuse to see me because I’m an Asian doctor.
“I’ve had comments made to me using the ‘P’ word when I’ve been growing up.”
Dr Amir Khan also pointed out “micro-aggressions” daily, something a previous survey highlighted.
We highlight the issue of racism and what British Asian doctors face.
A survey revealed that 60% of foreign NHS doctors face “racist microaggressions” at work.
Over 2,000 UK doctors and dentists were surveyed.
It found that 58% had encountered such behaviour.
This includes patients refusing to be treated by them or having their abilities doubted because of their skin colour.
Despite experiencing such incidents, many doctors did not report it because they thought no action would be taken.
As a result, affected doctors can feel upset, humiliated, marginalised and not taken seriously.
The survey highlighted fears that international medical graduates (IMGs) may choose not to work in the NHS, which is increasingly reliant on their skills given the service’s shortage of doctors.
Dr Naeem Nazem, the head of medical at the medical defence organisation MDDUS, which acts for doctors accused of wrongdoing, said:
“These findings show us that a worryingly large number of overseas-trained doctors working in the NHS face racist microaggressions in the course of their work, from both patients and colleagues and that many do so regularly.”
Underlining the damage such incidents can do to foreign doctors, Dr Nazem added:
“Microaggressions are the most common form of covert, interpersonal racism and are often minimised as simple verbal mistakes or cultural missteps.
“Studies have shown that these ‘subtle racist’ interactions cause significant distress. The term ‘micro’ doesn’t mean that the impact on the victim is small.”
Highlighting racist microaggressions, one medic said:
“A consultant gynaecologist addressed me as ‘that little Indian girl’ to a colleague when I was 32.”
Another said: “I have openly been told by several patients that they want to see a white doctor.”
Instances of Racism
Although 76% of medics said they had experienced at least one instance of racism in the workplace, 17% said they experienced racism regularly.
One medical student who did not want to be named said:
“I was looking after a Caucasian male patient who noticed I was taking more time than normal to do a particular task.
“He commented saying, ‘Come on, you monkey man’.”
“Other members of staff around me heard it but said nothing. In fact, one of my colleagues, a female Caucasian middle-aged lady, laughed with him.
“I felt horrible and wanted to curl into a ball. No one stood up for me and I did not have the courage to speak up.”
Meanwhile, another consultant believes White doctors are assumed “to be better”, saying:
“I have been mistaken for a taxi driver.
“I have been mistaken for a junior doctor and the White junior doctor was assumed to be the consultant. It seems to be pervasive that White doctors are assumed to be better.”
A Pakistani medical student said:
“On placement, the surgeon was not speaking to me, only to my white counterpart.
“Wouldn’t even make eye contact with me. Went to the extent that I was getting curtains closed on me.”
How Racism could pose a Bigger Problem
Racism in the medical profession could have a profound effect on the country’s doctors as a report warned that the NHS could face an exodus of ethnic doctors.
A review by the British Medical Association pointed out “institutional barriers” to career progression, “dangerously low levels” of reporting racist incidents and a growing mental health burden on ethnic minority doctors.
It identified “systemic failure” across the NHS and urged health chiefs to “bring an end to structural racism” or risk losing thousands of medics.
According to the report, many doctors face racial inequality at work, leading to them being overlooked for promotion, forced to change speciality or causing them to quit.
A poll revealed that 60% of Asian medics saw racism as a barrier to career progression.
Due to racial discrimination, 41% of Asian doctors have considered leaving or have left work in the past two years.
One medic said they were called a “headscarf b***h”. However, a complaint to their manager was met with “silence”.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA chair of council, said:
“The NHS was built on the principle of equality of care for patients whoever they are, but this report shows that the NHS is shamefully failing in this principle for its own doctors, with those from ethnic minorities reporting alarming levels of unfair treatment and racial inequality at work.
“It is deeply concerning that so many of those surveyed did not report racism, either out of fear of recrimination, being labelled a troublemaker or a lack of confidence it would be properly investigated.
“This means that doctors are suffering in silence, and the true extent of racism is neither exposed nor addressed.”
“What all this adds up to is a tragic waste of potential as doctors of ethnic minority are held back, dragged down or simply walk away from the profession.
“Racism is wrecking the lives of many doctors, affecting patient care and threatening services. The time for talk on this is over.”
It is clear that racism within the medical profession extends to all levels – from students to consultants.
The experiences of British Asian doctors underscore the persistent challenges of prejudice and discrimination in healthcare settings.
Despite their dedication, expertise and invaluable contributions to patient care, these professionals continue to navigate systemic biases that hinder their career progression and well-being.
Addressing racism in medical environments requires comprehensive reforms, including robust diversity training, transparent reporting mechanisms and proactive measures to promote inclusivity and equity.
Only by fostering a culture of respect and support can we ensure that all healthcare professionals, regardless of their background, can thrive and fulfil their potential in delivering quality care to diverse patient populations.
We must heed their voices and work collectively to dismantle the barriers they face, forging a path towards a more just and equitable healthcare system for all.