Sue Stockdale talks to Dr. Leanne Armitage about how a childhood experience, where she witnessed street violence, inspired her to become a doctor. With no medics in her family or social network, Leanne used her initiative to take the necessary steps towards achieving this goal and is now a qualified junior doctor. During her second year of medical school Leanne became very frustrated by the lack of diversity, with very few students come from low-socio economic backgrounds and certain ethnic minorities. This inspired her to cofound a charity – The Armitage Foundation – which offers medical outreach programmes to students from under-represented backgrounds. As a result of the work Leanne has been doing through The Armitage Foundation, she was awarded the UK 2018 Queen’s Young Leaders Award by Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Connect with Leanne Armitage on her website, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and her charity the Armitage Foundation via the website, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter
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Key quotes in this podcast:
[4.27] Sometimes I felt quite isolated on this journey, or I felt a bit discouraged thinking who can I look to for inspiration? Because there wasn’t really any role model that I felt like I could identify with somebody who came from a similar background to my own.
[7.23] There was definitely the fair share of negative voices or people who I guess were projecting their own limitations on me. But I knew this is what I wanted to do. And I knew why I wanted to do it. And because the driving force was so strong, it gave me such a tenacity that I was determined to do everything to my ability to make this happen. It was my dream.
[9.25] I think the ultimate thing is you defining yourself and defining what’s possible for you and being very self-aware of those beliefs.
[15.41] I think when you’re passionate about something, and you really believe that it’s necessary it gives you such a drive, and I think most individuals who are really passionate about what they do, they’re usually full of energy and, you know, they’re just really excelling and that’s because they’ve tapped into their passion.
[16.36] We’ve only got a finite amount of time and a finite amounts of energy in the day. And you have to decide what you’re willing to put your time to, and what’s important and you have to be willing to take the trade off.
[18.21] I do have doubts and uncertainties. And to be honest, I think if you don’t ever have those, then that is something to be worried about because anything that’s ambitious, anything that’s great. Anything that challenges you is going to raise uncertainties and apprehensions and doubts. And I think when you can develop an attitude where you’re not afraid to fail, that is so liberating.
[19.15] People are only celebrated for what they’ve achieved. If people were to show you a list of all their failures, usually that far outweighed the list of successes. You know, it’s just that as a society, we don’t really focus on that.
[20.22] So when you can learn to reflect on any and every experience from day to day living to huge things that happens in your life. You will often find that there’s always something to learn.
[23.48] One of the things I’ve learned about life is that it’s often the simple things that we’re not implementing.
Leanne Armitage transcription: Increasing diversity in the medical profession
Sue: [00:00:00] hi, I’m Sue Stockdale and welcome to the Access to Inspiration podcast. The show where you can get inspiration from people who may be unlike you. We hope their stories and insights enable you to transcend your day-to-day challenges and reflect on what you are capable of achieving. Today’s guest is Dr. Leanne Armitage one of the most inspiring and reflective young people I’ve spoken to recently. Leanne is a junior doctor and co-founder of the Armitage foundation with big ambitions to increase diversity across UK medical schools Brought up on a council estate in Southeast London, Leanne witnessed street violence, which ultimately inspired her to become a doctor. Welcome to the podcast, Leanne.
Leanne: [00:00:55] Thank you for having me.
Sue: [00:00:56] Now, I’m curious to know, first of all, what is it that you love about being a doctor?
Leanne: [00:01:01] Ooh, what is it that I love? I always find it hard to answer these one line questions. I think what I find probably most special about being a doctor is just the opportunity to interact with people from all different backgrounds. Hear all different types of stories is quite fascinating. I think it’s probably one of the few professions that gives you such a privilege.
Sue: [00:01:24] And now that you’re in that profession, maybe we can backtrack and think about where the inspiration came for you to want to be a doctor in the first place. I wonder if you can tell the listener a little bit about what life was like for you growing up and what inspired you to want to become a doctor and the first place.
Leanne: [00:01:40] So my inspiration to become a doctor stemmed from an incident which I always share. Cause it was kind of basically the incident that birthed my dream. So I was 15. I was coming home one day with my sister, and I remember hearing this really loud sound from above so I looked up. And I saw that it was a helicopter and I love helicopters. They still excite me to today. So I got really excited and I asked my sister, we could travel over to where the helicopter was landing and she agreed and together we went. But when we got there, I remember seeing a crowd of people gathered around and. Everybody was just standing there staring and their facial expressions didn’t quite match the excitement that I had inside.
So I was a bit confused and I just asked the nearest person to me, why everybody was gathered here. And she told me that a young man had been stabbed and growing up in Peckham. I grew up in Southeast London. It wasn’t uncommon unfortunately to hear about young men being stabbed or being shot at quite a young age, losing their lives.
But there was something about this incident that really stuck with me. And I think it’s because I went from that place of being so excited to then feeling so aggrieved. As I realized that this helicopter isn’t here for any good reason at all. And I remember in that moment, feeling so many different types [00:03:00] of emotions.
I felt angry because I was looking around thinking everybody’s just standing there staring, but he’s actually going to do something to make a difference. And then I started to question, well, what can you do so that evening I went home and I remember just meditating and praying and crying out to God asking what can I do to make a difference?
And then an idea came to me that if I aspire to become a trauma surgeon, that would give me a platform to go into environments where young men are involved in knife and gun crime in the hope of inspiring them to be able to do better. So that really, yes. The driving force that underpinned my desire to become a doctor, gave me such a tenacity to keep driving forward.
Sue: [00:03:42] And there you are in Peckham with this aspiration. I’m imagining, perhaps that looking around you with the people that you knew, your friends and so on, was there an expectation that that would be the career move that you might make? Or was that something that would be out of the ordinary?
Leanne: [00:03:57] It was definitely out of the ordinary. I don’t think there was anyone on my council estate that wanted to become a doctor. I don’t really remember any friends that were really aspiring to become doctors. It wasn’t common. There wasn’t anyone in my social network that was doing it. I think. Really growing up the only experience I had of doctors was when I was actually going to the doctors myself, it wasn’t that an uncle or a friend was a doctor who I could speak to.
So it was definitely something that was very different, which definitely made it quite challenging because sometimes I felt quite isolated on this journey, or I felt a bit discouraged thinking who can I look to for inspiration? Because there wasn’t really any role model that I felt like I could identify with somebody who came from a similar background to my own, at least in the beginning of my journey, I felt that way.
Sue: [00:04:46] So there you were perhaps with no role models around you yet with this aspiration, what were your first steps then to going towards that desire that you had.
Leanne: [00:04:56] I literally just did a Google search. And when I did the Google search, I realized the first thing I needed to do was get really good grades at GCSE. So I set myself the goal of achieving 10 A stars, because for me that was the next right move that I could do. And so I thought, okay, let me just do that. And then keep working from there. And my sister suggested that I apply for a bursary while I was in secondary school, a bursary or a scholarship. And I agreed. And I only applied for one bursary. It was called the, a better chance. Bursary offered by mill Hill school in Northwest London. And to my surprise, I actually got that. And so it’s almost like after having had this vision and this desire and going about the first step that I could do, which was getting good grades at GCSE, then it’s like different opportunities were beginning to come along my journey, which were helping me to get to the destination of becoming a doctor.
Sue: [00:05:51] Now, whilst you may have had that determination and aspiration often for many people, it’s their family circumstances or [00:06:00] those around them, that might be dismissive. of their aspirations and then they just don’t take them any further forwards. I’m wondering what degree did you have any support or what your family were thinking about you wanting to have this as, as your career?
Leanne: [00:06:12] My mom, she wasn’t educated past GCSE level, so she didn’t really know how to navigate the higher education system. She wasn’t really familiar with that, but one of the things that I love about my mum and I’m so grateful for is that she never said you can’t do it.
She always just used to see me as the, a girl and she just had the mindset that I could do anything. So, yeah. She supported me to the best way she knew how so if I asked her, Oh, mom, can you buy me this book? Or can I go to this lecture? She was very open to all of those things. So I’m very grateful for that, because that definitely helped me.
But in saying that I remember once I told one of my primary school teachers, I wanted to be a doctor and she was that, are you sure? You know, it’s quite expensive to go to medical school. Well, even when I was at secondary school, my secondary school was quite a good state secondary school. And there were many teachers who supported me.
There were also some teachers who weren’t so supportive. And I remember one teacher was kind of dismissing my potential to be able to secure the right A-level grades because it’s quite difficult to get all A’s in the subjects that you need for medicine at A-levels. And, you know, I remember once somebody said to me that doesn’t matter how many stars you get when they see you’ve got black and they won’t let you become a doctor.
So there was definitely the fair share of negative voices or people who I guess were projecting their own limitations on me. But I knew this is what I wanted to do. And I knew why I wanted to do it. And because the driving force was so strong, it gave me such a tenacity that I was determined to do everything to my ability to make this happen. It was my dream.
Sue: [00:07:43] I can just sense that energy and desire that you have even in your voice now Leanne. So now you’re looking back on that journey that you had from wanting to get the good grades, to now being qualified. What have you learned about you in that time?
Leanne: [00:07:59] It’s a very powerful question. I think the fundamental thing that I’ve learned about myself along this journey is that it doesn’t matter what other people’s opinions are of me. If the opinion I hold of myself, that is a fundamental importance, because people, as I said, sometimes they project their own insecurities or they’ll tell you what you can and cannot do. But that in and of itself is not damaging. What’s damaging is when you start to internalize that and believe that as a truth for yourself.
And along my journey, I had many challenges in terms of really getting a grasp over my identity, even when I was at boarding school, because I had come from a deprived area in Southeast London, around people living in deprivation. To now a school where I was boarding with the children of millionaires and very wealthy families.
And while I was at boarding school, I was seen as the girl from Southeast London on a bursary. But while I was coming back down to South London or church for me is always a huge part of my life. So I’d go back to South London every [00:09:00] Saturday to go to church on a Sunday. And at church I was regarded as the posh girl.
So it’s like. I’m fighting, not fighting, but I’m, they’ve got all these different identities that people are trying to impose on me. And I don’t quite feel like I fit any of them because some of them are kind of clashing. So I had to start really asking myself at a young age, who are you? What is your identity? What do you stand for? And so it really has been a journey, but as I said, I think the ultimate thing is you defining yourself and defining what’s possible for you and being very self-aware of, of those beliefs.
Sue: [00:09:33] And one of the things that I’m really interested in Leanne is not only that you’ve achieved for yourself in getting the career that you deserve is that you’re also now giving back through the Armitage foundation that you co-founded. I’m curious to know more about that and what prompted you to start that up?
Leanne: [00:09:51] The Armitage foundation is a charity that’s committed to increasing diversity across UK medical schools. This is something that is so important because at present there’s a massive lack of diversity, really for the NHS to provide the most effective healthcare it’s medical workforce has to reflect the diverse society that it’s serving.
Because if you don’t have diverse people in positions of leadership, especially within healthcare. You’re not going to be able to relate effectively to your patients. You’re not going to be able to really give them the care that they require. And I can give you several examples of why this is important.
And maybe I will just give one to really make this point, drive home. With the medical curriculum most of what we’re taught is based on how things present in Caucasian people, especially in dermatology. So issues of the skin, they can present very differently on Brown and black skin. And so if the curriculum is not teaching you that as doctors, you’re not very well-prepared for identifying these health problems when they’re presented on people with darker types of skin.
And so that means that health conditions will be picked up a lot later. So that’s just one such example, because if you have somebody of the diverse background at a leadership level, who’s kind of suggesting you to think like this, then you start to think like this and you realize that, Oh my God, there’s a gap there that we need to fill.
A second example is, um, one of my mentors who is a doctor was telling me that there was a pediatric patient. So a child patient who had what looked like burn marks on her back. And so some of the other doctors were getting really concerned thinking that, Oh my God, maybe this is a safeguarding issue. But this doctor was thinking, hmm, she is not quite sure this is a safeguarding issue.
So she spoke a little bit more to the parents of this child. And she realized that actually it was because the child had had their hair braided and the ends of the braid had been dipped in hot water to secure the braid. And so that water had kind of touched the back of the child and left what looked like burn marks.
So that actually was what it was, but because there’s this doctor [00:12:00] from a diverse background who can offer that insight automatically allows people to now start thinking from a different perspective. And what initially looked like a safeguarding issue and abuse actually turns out to be something that was nothing like that at all. So that’s just another example of the significance of diversity in medicine and why it’s necessary across all professions. Really.
Sue: [00:12:23] Sue again. And if you’re enjoying this episode, then please pay it forward. Tell just one other person about this podcast and you could really make a positive difference in their lives too. You can also read this interview as well because there our transcriptions for each episode on the website, So just hop on over to access to inspiration.org and you will find them all there. We have over 40 episodes now available and you can keep connected to us via social media on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Now back to Leanne. And I know there’s some startling statistics that you have around where doctors previously have been recruited from in terms of society and schools. I’m wondering if you can give us some comment on that.
Leanne: [00:13:10] Yes, there are statistics that show that in fact, the British medical association produced a report, which highlighted that half of the schools across the UK do not produce a single medical applicant and across UK medical schools, less than 5% of the cohorts are coming from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
So what the Armitage foundation is really doing to address this is we believe in a long-term continuous intervention where they’re going to support students from year eight, all the way up until their application to medical school. And this is important because to make a student, a competitive applicant for medical school, they need to be a very well-rounded individual, as well as scoring well academically, they have to have cultivated soft skills, such as communication skills, team-working skills. There are so many different elements, as well as admissions exams and interview preparation. It’s very intense in terms of all the preparation that one needs to go through to be a suitable candidate for medicine.
And often medical schools offer these one week taster programs or maybe a targeted A-level program to support students from these backgrounds. And although that’s great, often it sows the seed of inspiration, but doesn’t cultivate it or with say an A-level program. It catches the students who are most suitable by that stage, but really to give all students the best possible chance we believe that you need to start young and support those students all the way through.
So we’re developing this long-term continuous intervention. At present we’re working with year eight to nine students prior to COVID we’d go into schools. And we deliver a program that was about an hour and a half with half of the session, be theoretical, so teach and then things through a PowerPoint presentation and then the latter part of the session being interactive so they can implement the skills they’ve learned.
[00:15:00] But alongside doing that, we’re also inspiring the students, getting them to really identify with this profession and to know it’s possible for them to do it. And we do that through them having relatable role models, bringing them to the university. Really exposing them to the environment and showing them that they can do it.
Sue: [00:15:17] I imagine that if you’re a busy yourself studying for your own qualifications, How did you ever even find the time, let alone the energy to set up a foundation?
Leanne: [00:15:29] I think I probably do have a little bit more energy than the average human. My friends always joke and like it’s nine o’clock in the morning. You haven’t drunk coffee and you have so much energy I think it’s twofold. I think when you’re passionate about something, and you really believe that it’s necessary it gives you such a drive, and I think most individuals who are really passionate about what they do, they’re usually full of energy and, you know, they’re just really excelling and that’s because they’ve tapped into their passion.
So I think the first thing is that I’m passionate about this. And the second thing is that I think he’s just on a practical level, effective time management, and also being willing to make certain sacrifices like. If I’m honest with you in the beginning of medical school, before I co-founded the charity, I was scoring first decile meaning the top 10% of the cohort.
But as I started to have the responsibility of the charity and started doing a bit more public speaking and various other ventures, My grades were being affected. I was still passing everything first time around. Thank God. But I did see a drop and I think sometimes in life you’re not superwoman or Superman.
We’ve only got a finite amount of time and a finite amounts of energy in the day. And you have to decide. What you’re willing to put your time to, and what’s important and you have to be willing to take the trade off. And I was willing to take the trade off of my grades, not being as good, because I knew that, well, this work to me is just as important. And what do I want to be known for? What legacy do I want to leave? And I wanted to support students coming from my kind of background and to give them a chance, a better chance.
Sue: [00:17:03] So do you think that sad to see that we’ve all had a much closer brush with healthcare over the last 12 months? So the NHS has been very much at the forefront of everybody’s minds. Do you think in a way that that has led more people to want to become doctors and surgeons and in the medical profession?
Leanne: [00:17:23] Good question. I think people have definitely developed a new respect and admiration for medicine. For sure. Everybody thinks you’re like a hero. When you tell them your a doctor, whether or not that’s made young people desire to become doctors more. If I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure I haven’t done any surveys or statistics. And the students that we’d work with as a charity, they ready wants to do medicine. So I cannot say for sure, but I guess if there’s that increased admiration and that increased focus on the profession, then I presume that more students would be interested in wanting to do it just [00:18:00] because that being highlighted
Sue: [00:18:02] You are describing to us very clearly, that sense of passion, determination, and focus, you have both with the charity and with your studies that took you to becoming a qualified doctor. Do you ever have any doubts and questions in your mind and uncertainties like the rest of us? Are you just so focused?
Leanne: [00:18:21] I do have doubts and uncertainties. And to be honest, I think if you don’t ever have those, then that is something to be worried about because anything that’s ambitious, anything that’s great. Anything that challenges you is going to raise uncertainties and apprehensions and doubts. And I think. When you can develop an attitude where you’re not afraid to fail, that is so liberating. And that is a key to success. Many times people won’t do something because they’re afraid that what if I fail and I think it’s really important that you learn to separate your self-esteem and your identity from failure, because when you see it as part and parcel of the journey to success, if you stop attaching your self worth to it and just see as a process, it’s a lot easier for you to overcome that apprehension than just go for it, because you realize that even if you do fail, so to speak, You’re still learning something from the experience and the people are only celebrated for what they’ve achieved. If people were to show you a list of all their failures, usually that far outweighed the list of successes. You know, it’s just that as a society, we don’t really focus on that. I think it’s good to have apprehensions even shows that you’re really thinking deeply about something. Because you’re considering where it could go wrong. And when you can consider that, that even gives you a greater chance of succeeding because it means your strategy will include those possibilities and you’re working around it.
Sue: [00:19:43] You’re really giving us a great example of your mindset, Leanne, and dare I say, the wisdom that you have for a person at a young age, very often that isn’t necessarily there. I’m just wondering where do you think you get that from?
Leanne: [00:19:56] I think there are a few answers to that. I think partly innate in the sense that I’m naturally very introspective and very reflective, I think so deeply. And that helps me to process things. I think sometimes we’re not really taught to be very reflective, but I’m a very big believer in what Albert Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.
So when you can learn to reflect on any and every experience from day to day living to huge things that happens in your life. You will often find that there’s always something to learn. And so I’m constantly trying to learn from every single experience I have in life, the good and the bad, and often the bad thing that we don’t like to think about or reflect on you learn the most from them.
So I tried to have that mentality. I’m somebody who loves to learn from those who’ve got ahead of me on, I think you have to have a level of humility to be that kind of person. I listened to mentors. I take their advice. I’ll try. I’m not afraid to fail. Having that mentality of not being afraid to fail, allow [00:21:00] me to excel in many of the things I have excelled in. And. I have to say, it’s my faith as well. I really try to study the Bible and implement many of the things from there that I’m taught. And I think that helps me to evolve and develop as an individual and just keep learning.
Sue: [00:21:16] It’s really fascinating to just get a perspective inside your head in terms of what you’re thinking about, what you’re reflecting on this, helping you. So let me take you say five years ahead from now. Are you a long-term thinker in terms of, I think you did use the word legacy already in our conversation. Are you thinking about what you want your legacy to be?
Leanne: [00:21:35] Absolutely. I do have a vision for my life. Of course, this will evolve as you mature and develop the way you see life changes. And so what I said I wanted to do is 15 has definitely changed today, but nonetheless, my passions are very similar. I’ve always desired to inspire people. I envisioned myself as an international speaker. I like to give a voice to the voiceless, to empower people, to lift people up, to inspire them, to help them to overcome the limitations they may try to place them themselves because of their backgrounds because of society. So that’s one of my main passions, empowering and inspiring people. And I want to have a larger scale to do that. In relation to my charity. I envisioned it being nationwide and maybe even international. And we’re in the process of building a strategy to make that happen.
And as a doctor, I’m not entirely sure what specialty, I’ll be, probably something linked to emergency medicine. I like a bit of adrenaline. I know I wanted to be a part time doctor. And again, I’m fascinated by the world. So I definitely see myself doing things on an international scale. I mean, with medicine, you definitely can do that, but exactly how, and if I will specifically link to medicine, I’m not sure, but that’s a few of the things that my mind is thinking about for the future.
Sue: [00:22:52] Maybe you’ll develop a new category, it’ll be called inspirational doctor never mind anything else So on that point about the health care profession and so on for all of us as human beings what’s your take on what we can be doing for ourselves to in a way avoid ever having to see the doctor.
Leanne: [00:23:11] That’s a wonderful question. I think it’s an important question because it’s sad to say, but I don’t think the UK healthcare system invests enough in preventative medicine. And the reason I say this is because hope my doctor colleagues don’t attack me for this. I don’t see this to be judgmental at all, but I observed that even amongst doctors, they don’t prioritize as much as they can, their own health. They don’t have regular exercise and they don’t always eat the healthiest.
And that’s the message that we’re preaching to patients, but not all of us are doing that ourselves. And I think just to take things back to basics, because one of the things I’ve learned about life is that it’s often the simple things that we’re not implementing. And it’s the simple things that will give us the results that we need. And so just taking it back to basics and having a [00:24:00]healthy diet and getting enough physical activity, I think that’s the most important thing that people can do. And that’s the thing that most people don’t do. Particularly the area that I’m working now, most of the population is obese, morbidly obese, and many of the health conditions they’re presenting with, often at an earlier age is because of the diet they’re living.
So I think that everybody should make an effort to educate themselves about healthy eating, exercise, and to make it a priority to live. Like that. And then of course there’s the mental health aspect as well, which is important to protect through speaking out with people, having different mechanisms in place to manage your stress, et cetera. But yeah, I think I cannot stress enough diet and exercise.
Sue: [00:24:42] So I think it’s do, as I say, as well as I do, if you know what I mean. So if people want to find out more about you and the work that you’re doing, Leanne on social media, how might they do that?
Leanne: [00:24:53] Find me on social media and my charity. My charity on Instagram is the Armitage foundation on LinkedIn, where the Armitage Foundation. You can also find us on Twitter. Our website is www.armitagefoundation.com. If you just Google that, you’ll find it. I’m on Instagram, Armitage underscore Leanne I’m on LinkedIn Leanne Armitage. And I also have a website www dot Leanne Armitage com. Well, very easy to find it’s just the name.
Sue: [00:25:23] Brilliant. Well, we’ll put links to all of those on the show notes from this podcast, Leanne, it’s been absolutely lovely to speak to you today. I’m inspired by just the energy and the foresight that you have for changing the world in the future, but I really wish you well and your endeavors.
Leanne: [00:25:37] Thank you. Lovely speaking to you too.
Sue: [00:25:40] Well, what did Leanne’s energy and drive inspire you to do differently? I really love the wisdom and insight that she has for someone at the early stage of their career. And she really emphasized the value of reflection and learning from failures as well as successes. If you want to listen to more from access to inspiration, then you can listen to over 40 episodes ranging from an interview with an astronaut and an ultra marathon runner. There’s plenty to listen to. Guests are featured from over 14 countries, including India, Kenya, Colombia, and New Zealand. Next week, I’ll be talking to Josh Wasserman. a design and innovation consultant about honing the skill of observation. I do hope you will join us then.