Call me Sally?

One uneventful evening I found myself reading a blog giving advice to Black minority ethnic (BME) doctors on how to pass one of their GP exams (the clinical skills assessment (CSA)).

Pass rates for the CSA exam are “91% for British white doctors and 36% for BME doctors.”[1]And this large difference has been raising eyebrows.

The blog that I found belongs to Dr Una Coales, in which she equated the statistics above to unconscious bias. Put simple this is our “people preference” bias which is as a result of many factors.

The premise of her argument is that CSA examiners have an unconscious bias towards the BME doctors (which isn’t the same as saying that they are racist). This she believes accounts for the high failure rate. Therefore, if the amount of unconscious bias can be decreased the BME will theoretically pass their exam and failure rates will decrease.

The blog contains many tips such as:

“Anglicise your name.

If it is Dr Jaswinder Singh, say ‘Dr Jay’ when you introduce yourself”.

When I first saw the blog I thought it was a joke. Tongue in cheek and light-hearted. It didn’t take long for Google to correct me! Dr Coales did exist and has even written a book on how to pass the CSA exam and negate unconscious bias. Further, this blog post clearly hasn’t got over 4000 hits because people want a good laugh. BME doctors are genuinely struggling in this exam and they are looking to people for help.

When it was confirmed that the blog was true, initially I was outraged. “How dare someone suggest that I change my name” I said to anyone who would listen that evening!

But then I got thinking….I already do this myself! What a hypocrite I was being.

My name is an Arabic name and is pronounced Sul-mah. But ask me in the clinical environment and I will tell you my name is Sal-ma. For the record, I draw the line at Sally (a fellow medical student asked if they could call me Sally because Sal-ma was too difficult for them. I told them no and to practice).

If you ask me why I say Sal-ma instead of Sul-mah, I will say that it is because people find Sul-mah too difficult, that I have to repeat it etc (to this day all my restaurant reservations are made under the name Sophie, my sisters name) but if I am honest with myself, is that the real reason? Could I subconsciously be trying to decrease ‘unconscious bias’ in the people I meet because on some level I know that through no fault of their own, they will have some sort of prejudice towards me? I don’t know the answer to this but it’s an interesting point to ponder, especially if you do the same.


For your reference:

Dr Coales blog:

A recent news report on unconscious bias in gender roles:


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