From doubts to dreams: Abi's journey breaking race barriers

Abi's path to LSHTM's MSc Public Health wasn't without its challenges. As a black-heritage woman navigating predominately white spaces, she's faced microaggressions and doubts from others on her academic journey. But these obstacles fuelled her resilience and passion for health equity. Join her as she shares her story and insights in this blog!
Abi Ngwang

Tell us more about your academic journey before you joined LSHTM?

I am an intercalating medical student, so before I joined LSHTM I had just finished my third year of Medical School at the University of Leeds.

What barriers would you say you have you faced during your education?

Reflecting on my journey to where I am today, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but I would like to preface this by stating that I am extremely grateful for my education, and acknowledge that being educated in Britain is a privilege. However, it hasn’t come without its difficulties. 

As a black-heritage woman who has for the majority of my life been educated in predominately white institutions I have always been hyper-aware of my race, and have been on the receiving end of microaggressions and some blatantly racist comments from my peers and teachers. Despite being on track academically, as soon as I voiced that I wanted to study medicine, some took the opportunity remind me of my background, of how competitive medicine is and their disbelief in my ability to succeed.

Medicine is still in many ways an inherited degree; it helps to have someone who knows the system. I am extremely proud to be the daughter of two immigrants, but it has meant that there can be a lack of guidance as you aren’t privy to the “rules of the game”. The inherited nature of medicine also means that at time there is very little diversity, and that as a black-heritage student you can feel othered at times, and unfortunately feel the need to hide your uniqueness, instead of celebrating it. Therefore, representation is extremely important, it allows you to visualise your dream, and allows you to be authentically you.

How have the barriers you’ve faced shaped your academic and personal development?

Although the obstacles were difficult at the time, I will forever be grateful for them. They have shaped me into the person I am today. I have learned to silence the negative beliefs of others and to chase my dreams and ambitions regardless of external doubts. My barriers have fuelled my pursuit of academic success. Even when others don’t believe that you are capable, it is essential to believe in yourself.

What advice would you give to help someone overcome similar challenges?

Just because someone doesn’t believe in you, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t believe in yourself. Their opinion doesn’t have to be the end of your story.

As a scholarship recipient, how would you describe the impact this has had on you?

The LSHTM Next Generation Scholarship has had an immense impact on me. It is so much more than financial support. It has validated my experiences and my background. I know that the School values people from my background, and that our voices not only listened to, but appreciated and celebrated. 

Many of our scholarships are kindly funded through philanthropy – what message would you like to share with someone considering contributing to our scholarship programme?

Donations go a tremendously long way; this time last year I would not have been able to fathom being a scholarship recipient, and now I am living out what I believe to be my purpose. I am immensely grateful to all donors. Understanding this, I am currently fundraising to contribute to the LSHTM Scholarship Fund!

Sunset outside LSHTM Keppel Street building
Sunset outside LSHTM Keppel Street building, photo by Abi Ngwang.

Can you talk about any of the student support services you’ve accessed and how they’ve helped you settle into your studies so far?

During welcome week we had the opportunity to meet with our tutor group, this instantly made me feel at home. The meeting was great, it gave us an overview of the year and key information for term one. Meeting our tutor group leader in the first week also meant that we knew who to contact with any questions or if we needed further support.

The meeting had a few ice breakers which prompted us to talk to new people and find common interests. By meeting my tutor group in the first week, I knew that there would never be a room in LSHTM without a friendly face.

How are you finding your MSc Public Health programme so far?

So far I am absolutely loving MSc Public Health! We briefly touched upon public health in medical school, but having the opportunity to explore it in greater depth and breadth has been incredible.

What has surprised you about LSHTM?  

I knew that LSHTM was diverse, and that studying here would be so valuable due to the variety of backgrounds, but it has surpassed my expectations. I attended lectures from world-leading experts and have made friends from all over the world!

What are your plans for after your studies at LSHTM?

After my MSc degree, I plan on going back to finish my medical degree. At the moment I am not too sure what career path I want to go down. Regardless of which direction I take, I plan to be working within health and contributing to the eradication of health disparities.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for your programme and/or the Next Generation scholarship at LSHTM? 

Applying for this master's and the scholarship felt like a giant leap of faith, but now that I'm here, I'm so extremely glad that I took the leap. So, if you are considering applying for the MSc Public Health or the scholarship programme, my top piece of advice would be GO FOR IT! There is absolutely no harm in trying. You might surprise yourself.