Interview: Omon Imohi, GP & Founder of Black Women in Health, Warrington
Using TikTok to raise awareness about health conditions affecting the black community and founding the UK’s first network for Black Women in Health
Quite possibly, Dr Omon Imohi looks familiar to you. If so, it’s because she’s a TikTok phenomenon and frequent YouTuber, and she uses social media to raise awareness about health conditions like breast cancer and bowel cancer in the black community.
A multi-award winning GP, Omon is also the founder of Black Women in Health, a non-profit organisation, now in its fourth year, that exists to “break glass ceilings and build bridges” for black women in UK healthcare.
When I was in Nigeria, I never noticed my colour because everyone looked like me ... But when I came to the UK, I felt the difference, and that I was part of a minority. It was a cultural shock and a bit difficult at first.
Talking about her work on social media, she explains: “During lockdown, when the vaccines came out, there was a lot of hesitation in the black community. So, I felt that I had to step up as I'm a doctor. I thought, ‘I can educate the community about the importance of the vaccine, based on scientific facts.’ There was a lot of misinformation online, and everyone was on social media because there was nowhere else to go. I realised that we needed to be there too. That was when I understood the importance of healthcare professionals being on social media.” Some of her health videos have not only gone viral but have also been aired on African television.
Based in the north of England, in Warrington, Omon originally studied in Nigeria and then the Caribbean before deciding to move to the UK and work as a GP. Like many, she was attracted to the NHS by virtue of its free status, available to everyone “where you don’t have to pay before someone will see you.” She particularly likes the north of England, where “the people are so warm; they smile at you and make you feel at home.”
Omon did, however, experience difficulties, mainly related to cultural adaptation, when she first arrived in the UK as a medical graduate. She acknowledges, “When I was in Nigeria, I never noticed my colour because everyone looked like me. When I went to the Caribbean, it was quite similar. But when I came to the UK, I felt the difference, and that I was part of a minority. It was a cultural shock and a bit difficult at first.”
Before [Black Women in Health] was established, if Omon googled the term “Black women in health” almost nothing would appear. “Sometimes,” she laughs, “black and white pictures of white women in medicine from the olden days would come up.”
She cites linguistic codes she had to relearn. On presenting a case to her supervisor, Omon stated: “I've examined her and she's fine. I'm not bothered that there's anything wrong.” In Nigeria, the word “bothered” in this context means “worried,” – it was not that she didn’t care. At the beginning, Omon had a “lot of learning to do because of [her] accent or the way [she] spoke, which was difficult”. But the learning experience was a two-way thing that also extended to her trainer and mentor as she was “their first BAME trainee.”
The need to relearn cultural codes led Omon to seek out other people with whom she could share her experience and find support. What started as a WhatsApp group of 3 has since become an award-winning network of over 250 women, baptised as ‘Black Women in Health’ and which has just celebrated its fourth annual conference.
When young black girls see black female doctors around them, they will think: ‘I can do that too!’
Black Women in Health is “a space where [Black women] can connect, engage, empower and also celebrate each other.” Since its creation, it has helped over 200 women who have received complaints from either staff or patients – it is well-documented that black women are statistically more likely to receive complaints – as well as helping with welfare issues and support for settling in the UK. The platform is also used to advocate for more inclusion in UK healthcare, especially in leadership roles and decision- making roles.
A driving force behind setting up ‘Black Women in Health’ was to increase the representation of black women in UK healthcare. Before it was established, if Omon googled the term “Black women in health” almost nothing would appear. “Sometimes,” she laughs, “black and white pictures of white women in medicine from the olden days would come up.” By founding the Black Women in Health community, she hopes that other young black females will feel supported and represented. “Representation really matters,” she says. “When young black girls see black female doctors around them, they will think: ‘I can do that too!’”
Genevieve Shaw, Founder & Editor-in-chief
firstname.lastname@example.org / @WomenNHS