20-Year Old Student Discovers Why Patients With Darker Skin Tones Are Often Misdiagnosed

Malone Mukwende

For hundreds of years, doctors and researchers assumed that skin conditions like jaundice, warts, measles, and chickenpox produced the same symptoms for all patients. However, Malone Mukwende, a 20-year old medical student at St George's, University of London, has discovered that the visible symptoms are quite different for people with darker skin tones. This often results in thousands of misdiagnoses.

After sharing his research with some of his professors, he was able to convince Margot Turner, a senior lecturer in diversity and medical education, and Peter Tamony, a lecturer in clinical skills and the co-lead of a peer tutor program, to get on board.

In 2020, the three of them successfully released a textbook entitled Mind the Gap: A Handbook of Clinical Signs in Black and Brown Skin. The book is unique because it features dynamic content, it is concise, and above all, it is free to download.

Specifically designed for health care workers around the world, the book features images of common clinical signs, along with descriptors and suggested language for health-care workers to learn and adapt because students were not instructed on the correct terminology to describe conditions that appear on darker skin.

“It’s really about the words we use,” said Turner. “We are looking to decolonize the curriculum and make sure the medical education is reflective of everyone.”

“My hope is that the handbook will become a staple resource in medical settings around the world,” said Mukwende. “I want it to empower medical professionals, so they feel more competent, and so patients can be confident that their doctors understand them.”