"It’s in the delays that the lasting connections, difference and impact happens" Completing a PhD in the face of adversity

Published: 16 February 2023

SHW affiliate staff member and recent PGR graduate Anna Black reflects on a complex, sometimes arduous 10-year journey to complete her studies

In December 2022, former General Practice and Primary Care staff member and current SHW affiliate Anna Black reflected, via series of tweets, on a complex, sometimes arduous journey 10-year journey to complete her PhD.  Anna (below centre, with supervisors Nicola Burns and Kate O'Donnell) has kindly allowed us to reproduce her powerful thread for the School of Health and Wellbeing newsletter....

Photo of (left to right) Nicola Burns, Anna Black and Kate O'Donnell at a University of Glasgow graduation event

Life happens when you’re busy making plans. In December 2022, I had a wonderful day graduating with a PhD in Public Health from University of Glasgow, exploring how women with experience of the asylum system access primary health care.

This is a about a 10 year PHD journey...

During my PhD I completed GP training, got married, was diagnosed with a chronic illness and disability, had a baby, lost two babies, lost my wonderful mother- and father-in-law, cared for my husband through major surgery, shielded, and then worked as a GP through a pandemic. Hence three years became 10.

But, this gave me time with my PhD participants: inspirational women with one connecting factor – seeking asylum. This started as an interviewer/participant relationship but ended as a partnership through which we taught, trained and influenced health workers to improve access for new Scots.

Since 2016 we have jointly trained, with NHS Education, every GP trainee in the west of Scotland about caring for new Scots. We’ve spoken at conferences, written blogs and made videos for BBC The Social – amplifying voices of women and those with lived experiences, that are often ignored. This has been the benefit of 10 years. However, in the last 10 years the hostile environment has worsened for asylum seekers and refugees. Policies have become increasingly inhumane and the media more vicious. Life is even harder for those seeking safety.

I was always worried my work would become outdated before I finished but unfortunately it’s even more relevant. The need to work together to create a culture of safety, in our policies, in healthcare and in our communities, has never been more acute.

I take all of this learning and opportunity to my clinical work, my teaching and my work for Public Health Scotland, my previous role as a Human Rights Commissioner, the Govan Community Project, and the Promise Scotland (which works to drive change across the "care system" to transform the experiences and outcomes of children, young people and families). I hope to always be led by those with lived experience and those organisations who work to make life for new Scots better – the Scottish Refugee Council and Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network.

My biggest thanks is to the women who allowed me to interview them. Also to my supervisors Kate O'Donnell, Frances Mair and Nicola Burns for not giving up on me and colleagues in General Practice and Primary Care, especially Yvonne Cunningham, Susan Browne, Michelle McKelvie, Sara Macdonald and Lindsey Pope.

I hope this thread inspires anyone who feels that life is getting in the way of a plan. Sometimes that is meant to be. Often it’s in the delays that the lasting connections, difference and impact happens

Dr Anna Black 
School of Health and Wellbeing affiliate

Anna Black is a Glasgow GP, UofG affiliate staff member, non-executive board member of Public Health Scotland, trustee for the Govan Community Project and a non-executive director to the board of The Promise.

First published: 16 February 2023