New psychiatry fellowship for Black medical students

Press release
02 October 2023

Pictured left-to-right: Oluwamayomikun Ajayi,  Daniel Olaniyan and Isabelle Gallier-Birt

Three medical students are set to embark on a new fellowship scheme which provides people from under-represented backgrounds with the opportunity to choose psychiatry as a career.  

The successful applicants Oluwamayomikun Ajayi, Isabelle Gallier-Birt and Daniel Olaniyan will begin their fellowship this week with an induction ceremony held at the College.  

The Royal College of Psychiatrists Aggrey Burke Fellowship was introduced to address the fact that Black—especially Black Caribbean doctors—are the least-represented ethnic group in psychiatry.  

A two-year programme, it is made possible through grant funding from the Basil Samuel Charitable Trust, which awards grants to organisations carrying out medical, socially supportive, educational and cultural activities in the UK. 

The fellowship offers a range of benefits including: 

  • Mentorship from a senior trainee, SAS doctor or consultant, aligned to the Fellows’ individual career interests
  • £1500 for career development and/or activity to increase understanding of psychiatry. 
  • A fully funded place at the RCPsych International Congress and an invitation to the Fellows & bursary holders networking event at Congress. 
  • Access to RCPsych’s eLearning hub (CPD online / TrOn) and electronic copies of College journals. 

The three participants will also be supported in research and audit projects, boosting their career advancement whilst they act as ambassadors for the fellowship and the wider profession. 

Oluwamayomikun  Ajayi is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Plymouth. As a member of her university’s psychiatry committee, she is passionate about challenging misconceptions about the profession. Keenly aware of the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in psychiatric studies, she is interested in exploring their suitability for a diverse patient population. As part of her CPD learning, she hopes to study British Sign Language (BSL), to communicate effectively with patients who are deaf, hard of hearing or use it as their primary language.  

Oluwamayomikun said:

“I’m so grateful to be a part of this new fellowship, there aren’t many opportunities for students like me to gain as much knowledge and insight into psychiatry as this fellowship offers.” 

Isabelle Gallier-Birt is a graduate studying medicine at Warwick University. She first became interested in a career in psychiatry after working as a nursing assistant in an inpatient psychiatric ward, gaining insight into some of the socioeconomic barriers patients face when accessing healthcare. Of Jamaican heritage, she knows that Black Carribean doctors are the most underrepresented group in psychiatry and believes that improving ethnic and cultural representation has the potential to be transformative for mental health care.  

Isabelle said:

“I was inspired by Dr Burke’s achievement of being the first black consultant psychiatrist in the NHS and the rich and impactful career he enjoyed. I want to pursue a career where I make a tangible and positive difference to patients, whilst being a part of the movement to bring attention to and dismantle the systemic racism within our health system.” 

Daniel Olaniyan is a second-year medical student at Bristol Medical School whose interest in medicine began when he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes as a child. Following in the footsteps of his father, a consultant psychiatrist, he has seen firsthand what being a psychiatrist entails and hopes to enter the profession.  

Daniel said:

“This fellowship is a great opportunity to enhance my understanding of the specialty and push me out of my comfort zone whilst becoming an advocate for psychiatry. It is extremely important to encourage young Black medical students to enter a field where there just aren’t enough of us.” 

Dr Lade Smith CBE, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: 

“Addressing inequalities is vital for the future of psychiatry and it is with great pleasure that I welcome Mayomikun, Isabelle and Daniel to the College. I am acutely aware that being President may support students to  envision a career path that they may not have previously considered to be within their reach.” .   

“One of the challenges faced by patients in accessing mental health services is the concern that they will not be heard and understood. We need more psychiatrists who share a background with patients from historically disadvantaged communities, delivering vital, more culturally competent care to improve the patient experience.” 

aggrey burke

Dr Aggrey Burke, said: 

“I am delighted to give my name to this fellowship, which I hope will enable the next generation of Black psychiatrists to take steps in their career that I could only have dreamed of when I was starting out.  

“Despite what often felt like an uphill battle to tackle racial disparities in patient care, helping patients from marginalised communities, especially in the wake of the 1981 New Cross Fire—recognising shared experiences and talking to patients who knew I understood what it’s like to navigate this country as a Black person—made me certain that psychiatry was the right choice for me.  

“Throughout my career I have seen systemic and individual prejudice affect everything from the experience of doctors in the profession, to every stage of the patient journey. Although great strides have been made since I started practising, there is still more work to be done. I hope this fellowship gives these students the means to keep moving forward, making a real difference to patients’ lives and ensuring a career well-spent.” 

Dr Aggrey Burke, the first Black consultant psychiatrist in the NHS, began practising in England in the 1970s. Over the span of a more than 40-year career, Dr Burke made strides in confronting racial bias in the medical school system. In 1986, he published a ground-breaking paper with his colleague Dr Joe Collier, exposing the racist and sexist student selection procedure in London medical schools, leading to reforms in school selection processes.   

Find out more about the Aggrey Burke Fellowship scheme for Black medical students.


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