Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Trying to fit in: the impact of microaggressions in pharmacy

By Ayah Abbass, locum pharmacist

Locum pharmacists like me have to adapt to a different environment every day. But is it more complicated when you come from a “different” background? My answer to this is yes!

I work as a clinical pharmacist in a GP and a community setting. I want to explain what it means to come from a minority culture. I want to be as vulnerable and open as possible, which can be scary, but if this piece can make one person feel more comfortable in their skin then it's all worth it.

My childhood

Let’s start by talking about my childhood. I was born in Iraq and came to this country in year 6, carrying a few English words in my head that I thought would get me by. I still remember my first day at school where children were cruel to me as they knew how vulnerable I was. I unwittingly thought they were trying to be nice, as I had no idea what they are saying, but when you don’t speak the language of course they can say anything.

Trying to fit in

I used to hide my culture to try and fit in. But now, reflecting on my journey, I’m finally proud to be who I am with my culture and religion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still awkward when someone asks “where are you from?” or when they act like I am foreign just because we do things differently.

I recently attended an incredible session encouraging people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds to apply for leadership roles in the NHS. It made me realise that most people from such backgrounds can feel very uncomfortable and have to hide themselves to fit in to the majority culture. It’s a very slow process, but I think things are improving.

Microaggressions

Many pharmacists from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds have experienced micro-aggressions throughout their lives. The effect of micro-aggressions accumulates over time and whilst a lot of patients or staff imply that microaggressions are “harmless or a joke,” their impact can be profound.

Microaggressions have been described as “a million tiny paper cuts” which I find very accurate; we usually dismiss a small paper cut but imagine what it’s like to keep getting them. Eventually, this can have a negative impact on our career without us realising. We can experience imposter syndrome differently or more intensely compared to others, due to the pressure we face from every direction. I often feel I’m living a double life and fighting within myself, which is very difficult.

Adapting and thriving

I’m sure most pharmacists from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds would say they have to adapt and change the way they behave depending on the other people working in the pharmacy, and the patients. Sometimes you even have to change the way you talk. I’ve worked in community pharmacies in majority white areas where I’ve felt like I’m sticking out and have been asked awkward questions such as “Where are you “from from”? Others make assumptions about your culture or religion. I think sometimes you try to fit in and you get told “Oh, you’re not like the others,” which can be very insulting.

All I want is for pharmacists and pharmacy teams from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities to feel comfortable and know that we’re all going through the same thing. We deserve better representation at senior level in pharmacy and to work in an environment where we feel more empowered and can thrive.

RPS has resources on different microaggressions to help raise the subject in your workplace.

We want to encourage voices that express the diversity of lived experiences in the profession as part of our inclusion and diversity work. If you’d like to share your story, contact [email protected] or get involved through our ABCD group.

 

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