Meet Sonia Lalla
Art by Ameana Khan, Anaesthetic Registrar
(HLA Scholar 2020-2021)
As a Kenyan Indian I’ve always struggled to explain the answer to the question ‘Where are you from?’ At times I’ve found it easier to say India because that’s what my ethnicity is, at times I feel quintessentially Kenyan but the truth is I am both but also more.
My parents moved to Kenya from India, for the dream of a brighter future for themselves and their only child, me. I was only a few months old when this transition happened so Kenya is the only home I know of. We still hold Indian culture and tradition dearly but also with an interesting blend of Kenyan heritage within our lifestyles.
Despite the incredible country Kenya is, my family and I soon realised that credibility only lies in education from the first world countries. I started university in Malaysia for 2.5 years and followed a transfer programme to University of Leicester, in England I completed my degree. Following which I have lived around various cities in England for the last 11 years.
Occupation and institution
Anaesthetic doctor working for NHS. The NHS is the only institution I’ve worked for, and passionately so. Perhaps understand the importance of a safe health care system more because of where I come from. Perhaps it’s the combination of identities I carry with me that provides a holistic outlook to being a doctor within a multicultural system and country. Perhaps this evolving identity has allowed me to be accepted within the system despite the differences that are faced daily by people who belong to ethnic minorities, because I sound British.
Some of the struggles I have encountered aren’t purely because of my race either. It’s not uncommon to spend time speaking to patients about their management for them to turn around and ask when the doctor will come to see them.
The patient looking at and only talking to the white, male medical student with you because an Indian looking, female couldn’t possibly be the senior doctor. Introducing yourself as the Anaesthetic doctor to a patient who then in turn answers a phone call to say ‘I’m speaking to the nurse, I’ll call you back’. The inbuilt sexism within the organisation is sadly reinforced by excusing these misconceptions, time and time again.
Take home message
I always get told ‘You don’t sound Kenyan’ ‘You don’t look Kenyan’ ‘Why don’t you go work in Kenya?’ The real challenges are accepting that all these comments have some truth in them. But irrespective of where I come from, how I look or what my sex is I am a diligent and hard working doctor of anaesthesia who acts as an advocate for my patients to receive safe and quality care every day.
I think it’s time to accept that I can be a female Kenyan, Indian and British doctor in a highly intensive and specialised field of medicine bringing more to the table than is perceived by the wider public. And that is the beauty of being a female ethnic minority in a male dominated organisation of foreign country.