In education…

22 June, 2022 / indepth

Is there a long-term benefit to patients through representation from minority groups?

By mid-2020, the UK population was estimated to consist of approximately 67.1 million people. Scotland at this point was the home for 5.46 million people. A further analysis of Scottish data showed in mid-2021, 9.7 per cent of the population were non-UK born. 

As practitioners, it is virtually impossible to encounter patients who do not differ from us, whether this be in political, religious, cultural, or societal values. Differences in behaviour are apparent when we consider local populations. Cross the border into England and Irn-Bru is no longer available at your local McDonald’s drive-thru (some would say this is a tragedy) but minute differences become stark when comparing ideologies between British born and non-UK nationals. 

Why is this information important to clinicians? It is paramount for us to provide patients with respect and equal access to care. However, this is the bare minimum we can do. It is why the Equality Act 2010 is in place and why the General Dental Council ensure we do not breach their standards. If we can go above this minimum and create an environment which understands and welcomes diversity… we automatically allow patients to be comfortable in their dialogues with us. This ultimately will result in positive patient outcomes.

Here is where the representation of minority groups within educational settings becomes essential. A diverse staff population in educational institutions allows:

  1. Students from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME)/LGBTQIA+ groups to have someone they easily relate to 
  2. Staff to implement/advocate equality-based change based on personal experiences 
  3. Students to reflect on staff experiences resulting in an adaption of their behaviour for future patient care 

Expanding on point one: giving students a sense of belonging can encourage an additional connection to their education, increasing engagement and reducing implicit bias; resulting in successful progression through a programme.

Expanding on point two: those who are subject to oppression will be in a primary position to see where existing policies are less than progressive and actively suggest change. The Health Equity in England 2020 report suggests those from BAME groups are more likely to come from low-income households. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Education and Poverty programme highlighted that this acts as a predictor for low performance in educational settings. The presence of educators from these backgrounds increases the likelihood of sympathy being shown to students suffering academically. 

With the appropriate support students who previously
may have been overlooked will be able to flourish. 

Lastly: students from minority groups who can see the results of academic success in their educators may develop the confidence necessary to pursue these roles themselves. For those who do not come from backgrounds where systemic prejudices are active, having the opportunity to learn about them promotes understanding and tolerance for future encounters. There is a risk of racial bias developing in those whose only encounter with BAME groups is via social media or news outlets. 

Ensuring diversity exists across educator roles does not reduce the attention or quality of education for those from a majority population but it does give opportunities for minority populations to achieve the same level of greatness. Here, it is important to consider that simply increasing representation within an organisation does not promote equity… the onus lies with employers to ensure their staff are adequately qualified for posts they apply for. 

Here is to a future where organisations start with equality at their base and develop on this foundation to create an environment where all are welcome. 

Hassan Shariff is a clinical and academic teaching fellow for the BSc Oral Health Science programme at the University of Highlands and Islands.

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