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Meet Professor Amaka Offiah – Saluting our Sister as part of Black History Month

yellow ceiling with rainbow coloured glass with blue sky above sheffield children's hospital building
31 October 2023

Professor Amaka Offiah, Honorary Consultant Paediatric Radiologist at Sheffield Children’s and Chair in Paediatric Musculoskeletal Imaging at the University of Sheffield, talks to us about her experiences this Black History Month.

Amaka talks about her childhood years in England and Nigeria, how she decided to specialise in Radiology and how she grew to become one of only two Black female professors in medicine in England.

How did you first get into your chosen area of work?

Prof. Amaka Offiah smiles for the camera

 “I left England when I was around 12 to go to Nigeria. At that time, I was detaching myself from the

loneliness I felt of being the only Black girl in an all-White boarding school. It was very lonely.

“So, I was a dreamer. I wasn’t thought to be particularly clever, but as soon as I went into my

school in Nigeria, everyone suddenly realised I was quite clever after all. I was good at the science subjects. In Nigeria in those days,

around the early 80s, (not to give away my age!), you went into Medicine if you were clever and good at science. So, in terms of getting into this area, I didn’t really have a choice – I was always going to do Medicine. If I stayed in England, I would’ve studied Law or something that was more focused on art.

“Whilst studying Medicine in Nigeria, there was a point when visiting Professors came with early-day CT scans. Being able to see those images was so inspiring to me. I knew I wanted to do Radiology, which is perhaps not surprising, as Radiology is one of the more artistic areas in Medicine.

“Having qualified, I came back to England and trained in Radiology in Sheffield. In Nigeria, I had never come across child abuse as a diagnosis. I still remember the day very clearly when I learned about what non-accidental injury (NAI) was (nowadays we prefer to call it inflicted injury), and I remember being deeply touched that these children were being abused by the people who should love them the most.

“From then, I knew that this was something that I wanted to specialise in.”


What first attracted you to your current role and working at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust?

“I went for a fellowship interview at Great Ormond Street and was asked if I was interested in doing a PhD. I accepted and ended up being at Great Ormond Street for around 9 years. Then I had the choice to make on whether I wanted to stay in research or whether to become a full-time Clinical Radiologist.

“I remember emailing my CV to Professor Nick Bishop, who was in Sheffield at the time, and asking if he thought I would be successful as an academic with an interest in child abuse – to which he said, “Yes” and then persuaded me to move back to Sheffield!

“My specialism of child abuse linked with a few things ongoing at the Sheffield Children’s. For example, there is an Emergency Department at the Trust, and children who sustain injuries due to abuse are likely to present at an Emergency Department. Also, Nick was interested in a bone condition (called osteogenesis imperfecta) that gives children weak bones, which is an important condition we need to check for in children with fractures before we can say they’ve been abused. Therefore, it seemed sensible to come to Sheffield Children’s to pursue my research career.”


What did you want to be when you were a child and who inspired you?

“When I was about 8/10 years old, I wanted to work as a volunteer/charity worker and support vulnerable people living through wars in places like Israel or Lebanon.

“When I went to Boarding School in England, I had a friend there from Lebanon. Her family had to leave Lebanon because of the unrest happening there. Because of this, I just wanted to help and support those in need such as the poor or the homeless.”


What reflections do you have on challenges or achievements in your role?

“I have worked hard and have been focused on what I want to achieve in terms of child abuse. Child abuse as an area of research is difficult, so most of the research I have done has touched on child abuse but has not been as in-depth as I would’ve liked it to have been.

“On a personal level, I have been isolated. I am used to going to large conferences and meetings and being not just the only Black female, but the only Black person in the room. I’m quite a focused person, so in terms of work, this hasn’t mattered because I have felt confident in myself as a Clinical Paediatric Radiologist, but I have felt less confident in myself as Amaka Offiah.

“Whenever there have been social events, that’s when the “otherness” creeps in. Conversations would always gravitate towards what others had done which was very different to what I had experienced as someone who had grown up in Nigeria. People should be more inclusive in the conversations they have and the events that they organise, where they are recognising other people’s loneliness and vulnerabilities.

“Although, because I am focussed at work, I’ve been able to do well. I am a professor now and I’m very proud of that. I’m one of the 42 Black female professors in the UK, and one out of only two black female professors in medicine in England. When you consider how many doctors, academics, and Black workers there are in the NHS, these are very shocking statistics.

“People need role models and I feel the onus is on me to be a role model to make it easier for others to climb up these steep academic ladders.”


What helpful advice do you have for others?

“Growing up my mother always said that a “Job worth doing is worth doing well”, so I’ve strived to achieve the best I possibly can. By working hard, you’re in a position to be able to take the opportunities as they come.

“Enjoy the journey, because it is to be enjoyed and not just the result at the other end.

“See ‘failure’ as a means of learning; try to draw lessons from any situation. If 80% of something has gone right, then that’s fantastic – celebrate! Then look at the 20% that went wrong and see where you can improve. Things might be challenging, but some challenges are to be relished.

“Help others as you go along. You’re not better by making other people worse. You’re better by helping and supporting other people, and that adds to the joy of the journey.”


Thank you Professor Amaka Offiah for sharing your story and taking part in Black History Month!

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