Blog post

Celebrating, commemorating and educating during South Asian Heritage Month

Reflections from the chief executive of Health Education England on her South Asian heritage, and how it has shaped her role in the NHS.
Dr Navina Evans

11 August 2021

As part of South Asian Heritage Month, Dr Navina Evans shares her pride in her heritage and her experiences of growing up and working in the UK.

The theme of this year’s South Asian Heritage Month is to celebrate, commemorate and educate, focusing on the contributions and experiences of people of South Asian heritage. For me, this represents an opportunity to share my story and experiences and reflect on my South Asian heritage, having grown up in a Commonwealth country and spent my entire working life in the UK.

Celebrate

I celebrate our heritage because it is beautiful and an essential part of who we are, and because diversity is our strength. We are proud of who we are, the NHS has always been built by people of many backgrounds coming together and people of South Asian heritage have played a fundamental role in our nation’s history and development. Our contribution is immense, and it will continue to be so. We serve this nation with respect and dignity and ask to be treated with such in return. The pillars of the NHS Constitution are at our core and help us to stay true to our purpose. They guide us on how we should be regarded, but also on the principles of how we have served.

Commemorate

I commemorate our heritage because of the sacrifice of generations from the South Asian community. When we leave our home countries, many of us sacrifice our connections with our people and culture, leaving behind friends and family and our sense of belonging. Many had to adjust to a new power dynamic and some of us changed to fit in. Looking back, I know that I personally gave up a lot of myself in order to assimilate. Did I really have to do that? Whether right or wrong, it’s what I did. This is a time to reflect and acknowledge the contributions of so many others from South Asian heritage to our new home – especially our contribution to the COVID-19 pandemic response, where many have worked tirelessly in service to the public with some losing their lives. I want to recognise and commemorate their legacy and contribution. Many of us have also struggled with prolonged separation from loved ones overseas, especially in times when our home countries have also experienced great suffering and need.

Educate

We educate because we must learn from one another and from our diversity of experiences. We are stronger together and it is my hope that the immigrant experience will go from strength to strength. Right now, we have trainees and students from South Asian heritage who will be the future of our NHS; we must be better for them and improve their experiences in years to come.

I am inspired by so many people of South Asian heritage who wholly deserve to be celebrated and commemorated; so many, that I could not possibly name them all. When I think of these people, I recall the qualities that inspire me most: Their incredible patience and humility, their courage, and their ability to be outspoken without alienating others. Many of them are women. I am honoured to call them my colleagues and predecessors, mentors, and mentees, to work and grow alongside them and follow in their footsteps.

Growing up, my parents taught me about sacrifice and selflessness, I learned that those of us who were fortunate enough, by accident of birth, to have opportunities to gain status, power and wealth must support those who did not share in such good fortune. When I was first introduced to the concept of the National Health Service, I was drawn to the idea that good health is a basic right that should be available to everyone. Over the years, I and my loved ones have benefited from care and treatment in the NHS. I have also had a fulfilling and rewarding career as a clinician, a manager and a leader in the NHS.

"I believe it has been, and still is, my job to help generate and maintain hope."

And now, as an immigrant, I find myself in the highly privileged position of being the chief executive of Health Education England. This is an incredible time to be part of the history of the NHS. I am proud to join a group of chief executives who have the honour to shape and take care of something as precious as this health service. We have a huge responsibility to the communities we serve, and we also have a duty to our colleagues, trainees and population who put their trust in us as leaders. We must look after them and create the conditions for them to do the right thing.

I believe it has been, and still is, my job to help generate and maintain hope. It is my job to help deliver improved experience, improved outcomes, and better value under many different conditions and in a rapidly changing world. As an immigrant with South Asian heritage, I am so proud to have this opportunity to use my privileges to be part of doing something truly meaningful for healthcare in this country.

Alongside over a million colleagues, I cherish the chance to contribute to this, my new country.

Dr Navina Evans is chief executive of Health Education England. Follow Navina on Twitter @NavinaEvans