“I am proud to be a black female dentist”

Black history month may have first originated from the USA in the early 1920s but was first celebrated in UK in 1987. Nonetheless, it is good to see we are continuously improving the awareness of the growing diversity of the British culture and have seen the importance of celebrating the positive achievement of black people.

My name is Faith Iwu and I am proud to be a black, female dentist working within the NHS in the South Yorkshire region. I am a proud working mum, happily married with two lovely daughters and have a passion for teaching and learning new experience.

As a little girl, I was told I had an inquisitive mind and my teachers used to say I was very intelligent and would likely be a doctor in future. So, I grew up not giving any other profession much thought. From as young as I could remember, I just used to think I would be a doctor one day. When I applied to study at university, they had a combined college of Medicine and Dentistry at the time and for some reason I got offered Dentistry. From then on, I grew to love the profession without any hesitation, maybe because whatever I set my heart on, I usually put in my very best! Although my childhood years was in Nigeria, I had strong family ties in the UK and used to visit when on holiday. On one of such trips, I went to see a dentist in South London and fell in love with his clinic. I remember he had different colour schemes for each surgery room; there was the blue room & the green room and the practice was so well decorated; it was bright and lovely and I instantly wanted to practice in a place like that! Fast forward to my graduation and after the compulsory foundation year in Nigeria, I immediately relocated to the UK to “really” begin my career journey.

I have been a dentist for almost two decades now and almost all of those years of my career life has been spent working in the UK in various areas of the NHS. I passed all the relevant qualifying examinations within my first 2 years of settling permanently in the UK and I started off as an Associate Dentist in a very busy NHS practice. After working there for a few years, I wanted to further my education, so I applied for an MSc programme at the University College London (UCL). I attained my MSc in 2011 and also got a Postgraduate Diploma in Dental Public Heath from the Royal College of Surgeons England. These were achieved while still working in general practice as a Locum dentist in various dental clinics when I could. On completion of my postgraduate, I was offered a Senior Dental Officer position in an NHS Trust where I worked for four years.  During that time, I went on to do another postgraduate, this time in Medical Education in University of Sheffield (PGME). I also worked as a Clinical Teacher in the dental school and was later conferred Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

Unfortunately, my career journey was not without challenges and some of that was certainly due to the colour of my skin. The issue of racial discrimination and prejudice has been so much more talked about now more openly than just a few years back; most especially with the massive impact that the George Floyd case has had around the world.  In one of the first interviews I attended for a dentist position in the UK, the practice owner could not hide his instant shock when I appeared for the interview. The conversation was constantly steered towards my skin colour that it felt like I never really had an interview! In another instance, I was told frankly by the white practice owner that he had got a backlash for offering me the job. He basically begged me to find somewhere else to work since he did not want to fall out with the body in charge of processing my performer number.  They did not see why he wanted to employ a black dentist even though I had the right qualification, intelligence and I was British!

When I taught in the dental school, it was weird for some to see a black teacher in clinic; I sometimes got those embarrassing stares and comments from both students and colleagues. One of my colleagues dared ask me once what black peoples’ teeth looked like! There were times patients would opt to see my white colleagues without knowing my level of expertise; it seemed knowing I was black was enough to pass their judgement. I would not want to go on and on with the negative experiences I have had but I have touched on a few here so that anyone reading this who may have experienced or is presently experiencing any of these, can clearly see that these experiences have not stopped me from being me today! Some situations I have had to deal with squarely and reported them but the handling was extremely appalling and I was even treated like I was the bad guy! Many other occasions, I chose to ignore so that I can focus on my path and achieve what I have set out to do. I quickly learned that a situation you allow to sit on top of you would in no time drain all your positive energy and leave you very sore and probably depressed but a situation that you quickly rise above will soon serve as your wings to take you on a higher flight; therefore, in most cases, I choose the latter. This gives me the resilience and patience to be consistent in my journey and focus on my goal and it most certainly pays off.

It has not been an easy ride, but I believe things are way better today than a few years back, when it comes to the issue of being black or white and the impact it has on our daily lives. Now, the conversations surrounding racial inequality are getting more audible and people both white and black are actively and openly stamping their feet against racism, as in the case of the three black footballer heroes who were recently subjected to racial abuse – Rashford, Sancho and Saka. The more we talk about these things, the more likely we can come up with great solutions. We all need to take a stand and find our roles in working towards equality and diversity. A racial gap still exists in many professions today likewise in the British health force of dental professionals as well as in high positions of leadership within the profession but, I am proud to be in a position of great relevance as one of the black dentists helping to breach that racial gap in our dental profession today! That is a role I have taken and it could positively influence the younger ones of ethnic minority who are considering a career in health. The other way to improve the situation is not to be discouraged by different negative racial encounters but to focus on the positive representation of yourself wherever you are. This is how I practice every day and stay happy!

In summary, I am proud of all that I have achieved so far and take pride in my black personality. My experiences both good and bad have all helped to sharpen me to be the best I can be. Now, I proudly exude strength, elegance and intelligence. I have great passion for my work and take pride in making people smile better every day. I have a very broad patient base who would not even want to see any other dentist other than myself and who are certainly not in the least concerned by the colour of my skin. When you steadily carry on your hard work with a good heart, you eventually attain that position you have always wanted to be, where all your colleagues both black and white respect both your black personality and your skills; and your patients are happy because they know that you may be black, but you are simply the best!

Written by:

Faith Iwu BDS, MSc Lond, DDPH RCS Eng, PGME Sheff, FHEA

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