This Medical Student Created a Handbook to Show How Illnesses Present on Black and Brown Skin

Mind The Gap

When medical student Malone Mukwende started his degree at St George’s, University of London, he realised that the teaching around how illnesses present on Black skin was severely lacking.

“We were often being taught to look for symptoms such as red rashes which I was aware would not appear as described in my own skin,” Mukwende told BME Medics.

“When flagging this to tutors it was clear that they didn’t know of any other way to describe these conditions on patients of darker skin tones and I knew that I had to make a change to that.”

The now second-year student has since taken on a student-staff partnership project with senior lecturer in diversity and medical education, Margot Turner, and clinical lecturer in clinical skills, Peter Tamony to create Mind The Gap — a handbook that raises awareness of how symptoms can present differently on darker skin.

“The aim of this booklet is to educate students and essential allied health care professionals on the importance of recognising that certain clinical signs do not present the same on darker skin,” Mukwende said in a recent news release from St George’s, University of London.

Mind The Gap
Image: St George’s, University of London

“This is something which is not commonly practiced in medical textbooks as there is a ‘white skin bias’. It is important that we as future healthcare professionals are aware of these differences so that we don’t compromise our care for certain groups.”

Mukwende also noted how those with darker skin have had compromised care when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic due to the lack of education amongst health professionals.

“The booklet addresses many issues that have been further exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as families being asked if potential COVID patients are ‘pale’ or if their lips ‘turned blue’,” he said.

“These are not useful descriptors for a black patient and, as a result, their care is compromised from the first point of contact. It is essential we begin to educate others so they are aware of such differences and the power of the clinical language we currently use.”

Mind the Gap hasn’t been published as yet, but the team is currently in discussions with potential publishers to do so.

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