Posted: August 3 2018
Potters Bar Community Hospital
Fifteen-year old Ruby is a proud Romany Gypsy and she and her family, like many in her community, are now settled and living in Hertford.
She attends Simon Balle School and has always dreamt of becoming a neuro surgeon or oncologist. After she takes her GCSEs next summer, she hopes to start studying three science A levels from next autumn. When talking to Ruby you immediately pick up on her vitality, drive and enthusiasm. She’s also an accomplished writer, having won first place in her school's annual writing competition three times in the last four years, and has published several books on Amazon.
Earlier this year in February Ruby was invited to Potters Bar Community Hospital for a week’s work experience. As a result she’s now even more determined to become a clinician.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect at first but it ended up really exceeding my expectations. Everyone was so welcoming and inclusive. I was often asked about my Gypsy Romany Travellers (GRT) community and our roots, by both patients and staff. Looking back, I’d definitely recommend the work experience to others.”
Why does Ruby want a career in medicine? “There really aren’t many examples doctors or nurses who come from the GRT community. I read somewhere that there were only four examples of GRT clinicians across the whole UK. I want to change that!"
"My school are incredibly supportive, and have paid for me to attend several prestigious medicine summer schools at University College London."
“While some of my friends and relatives are content to live within GRT traditions, I am keen to look to opportunities beyond and help break down stereotypical views about us out there amongst the public.” So how does Ruby hope to do this? ”Wouldn’t it be great if more people would simply accept receiving care from, say a Romany Gypsy paramedic or surgeon, without any concerns or pre-conceptions?”
When asked about one thing that really stuck out about her time at Potters Bar it was her time spent with the patients. “It’s very important to listen to patients, hear their stories, not just their illnesses but wider things. In our community we value the opinion of elders and spend a lot of time listening and learning from them. We would rarely send them away to old peoples’ homes or hospice. “
While Ruby was at Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust’s Potters Bar Community Hospital her mentor was Ward Manager Afzal Ramjhan. How does he remember Ruby?
“Ruby was very popular with patients and staff, always keen to help out and was very motivated. The patients loved her and she was always very caring towards them. She observed ward rounds, joined in on multi-disciplinary meetings, helped with simple tasks such as feeding patients and socialising with them, plus helping out with physio sessions. She realised quickly that working in a medical environment is not just about treating sick patients but that there is a wider perspective.” Asked what really stuck him about Ruby added, “Ruby is a very smart girl and already seems to know exactly what she wants to achieve. We’d always welcome her back should she want more work experience. We all felt that Ruby has the potential to achieve her dreams of pursuing a medical career and she seems fully aware of all the hard study that will involve. Everyone here at HCT Potters Bar Community Hospital joins me in wishing her every success!”
Sadly over the years Ruby has often received racist remarks and slurs about herself and her GRT community. She often gets asked if she’ll actually sit her GCSEs, or if she’ll be getting married anytime soon. Once she was even called “gypo” in a very pejorative way.
One of Ruby’s major goals, while not studying is to break down these negative perceptions of the GRT community, which she feels is unfairly perpetuated by certain media outlets. Despite her young age she has represented her community at parliament this year in June and gave an impassioned speech focussing on her HCT work experience. Ruby was also involved in workshops with other major stakeholders including the police and other key stakeholders across the UK.
The Gypsy and Traveller Empowerment (GATE) group were also present and a wide range of issues were discussed. Ruby and others from her community gave suggestions to help break down prejudices and barriers, including more work experience schemes for younger GRT people.
Monika Kalyan is HCT’s lead for Equality and Diversity. In 2016, the Trust set up the Equality and Community Engagement Forum. Senior leaders meet and plan improvements in the delivery of health services with a wide range of Hertfordshire-based community and voluntary organisations.
The Forum has a positive and progressive atmosphere, embracing diversity and the need to discuss the difficult issues that sometimes accompany this area. One conversation that has already begun is about addressing the serious health inequalities experienced by Gypsy and Traveller groups. HCT now works closely with GATE (Hertfordshire), to improve access to healthcare for the Gypsy and Traveller community across the county.
A series of recent reports have concluded that the overall health status of the UK Gypsy Traveller community is very poor when compared with the general population. It is also relatively poor when viewed alongside with other seldom heard groups.
When asked about theses health inequalities Monika said: “GRT communities are one of the most deprived groups in the Britain with life expectancy in adults ten years lower than the national average. Gypsy and Traveller mothers are also twenty times more likely than the rest of the population to have experienced the death of a child.” Reports from the Equality and Human Rights Commission have also highlighted stark differences in educational standards.
But Monika feels that HCT, working alongside GATE and other partners and stakeholders is starting to make some headway.
“HCT takes this opportunity working with GATE very seriously. It is important to remember that there are cultural differences to take account of when delivering health services to our GRT communities. For example Romany Gypsies have strong family traditions and may want to place their elders in hospices for end of life care. We hope to be able to tailor such services which can be delivered within their own homes giving them equal access to health care.
“We are also in the early stages of helping to provide better training to help GRT carers look after their own members of their community who live with dementia.
“These are early days but the dialogue has now opened up and we are learning from each other, establishing better levels of mutual trust. We were delighted how well Ruby’s HCT work experience went and that other partner organisations and stakeholders now wish to also offer similar schemes to GRT communities across the country.
“Down the line we hope to reduce existing barriers and create greater access to health services that are tailored to the GRT’s cultural needs. Remember, HCT also learns from students like Ruby. It’s almost like reverse mentoring, a two way process where everyone benefits! It would be wonderful one day to welcome her as a fully qualified NHS colleague. Hopefully many more like Ruby from her community will also come forward to take advantage of NHS work experience.“
Ruby is living proof that no matter what community, race or background you come from, with enough drive, hard work and passion the sky’s the limit! Another programme of work experience is now being organised for Ruby with a partner NHS Trust in Hertfordshire. Everyone at HCT wishes her well with her future plans for a medical career.
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