And still we rise: a salute to our Sisters

Dr Margaret Ikpoh, RCGP Vice Chair for Professional Development, tells us what Black History Month means to her. She names some of the trailblazers past and present, highlights the progress that still needs to be made, and explains the importance of seeing Black women in leadership roles. 

October is Black History Month and an important date in the cultural calendar for most organisations and institutions throughout the UK.

The theme this year is 'Saluting Our Sisters', which pays homage to women who may have been sidelined, ignored and their voices suppressed.

Health and wealth outcomes for black women 

Statistically, health and wealth outcomes remain poor for black women in the UK today.

Black women were once described as the most disadvantaged member of a developed society and in 2023, we still are. 

In the UK, black women are the most underrepresented in the top percentile of incomes as compared to all other men and women.

Sadly, we are now all too familiar with the maternal health stats that affect black women, who are four times more likely to have poor outcomes in pregnancy or childbirth. 

Celebrating healthcare trailblazers 

Historically, as health caregivers, our contributions to health care include Mary Seacole, the British Jamaican nurse who is best known for her tireless work in the Crimean War and for the discrimination she faced and overcame. Or the incredible life of Princess Ademola, a Nigerian Royal who became a pioneering nurse in Britain during WWII. 

Fast forward to 2023, we salute and celebrate our own trailblazers, especially in the field of health inequality such as Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, Professor Bola Owolabi, Dr Onyi Okonkwo and Dr Omon Imohi and many more. 

Showcasing visible leaders who we can identify with is vital if we are to change our status quo of disadvantage. Their visibility allows for the art of making what feels impossible possible. 

I remain indebted to the allyship and generosity of friends and colleagues from diverse backgrounds. One of my most humbling achievements happened a few weeks ago when I was awarded an Honorary Professorship. 

Supporting the next generation

I am conscious however that any award comes with a degree of responsibility. It’s simply not enough for me to celebrate any accolade if I still have Sisters who continue to struggle for the recognition they deserve. The late and great Madeline Albright reminds me of the “special place” reserved for women who don’t help other women!

The onus remains on all of us to elevate, nurture and support our next generation of talent.

Once the world can create spaces for those that are different, disadvantaged and ignored, we will enjoy a more accepting and welcoming place tomorrow, than the one we exist in today.

Find out more about  equality, diversity and inclusion at the RCGP.

About the writers

Professor Margaret Ikpoh is a GP partner at Holderness Health in East Yorkshire and is Vice Chair for Professional Development and Standards at the RCGP.

She is an Associate Director for Primary Care at Hull York Medical School, and a GP trainer. Her regional work extends to co-chairing the regional Primary Care Workforce Group with NHS England and Improvement for the North-East and Yorkshire Regional People Board.

She is recognised for her work with the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Task groups at the RCGP and was awarded Fellow of the Year at the 2021 RCGP Inspire Awards ceremony.