Medical Student Creates Handbook to Show How Symptoms of Disease Appear on Darker Skin

If you’re not feeling well and you go to the doctor, chances are that the doctor is going to ask you about certain symptoms you may have noticed. The doctor will also examine you to look for symptoms you may have missed.

You would hope that the doctor would be trained to know how to identify crucial symptoms so that he or she would be able to correctly diagnose whatever it is that’s ailing you. 

Unfortunately, according to a black medical student in the United Kingdom, he isn’t being taught certain information that he and other medical students would benefit from knowing. 

Malone Mukwende says that he has been taught what symptoms, such as rashes, look like on people who happen to have light colored skin, but he is not being taught what that rash would look like on someone who has dark skin like himself. He knows the rash would not look the same on his skin as on someone with white skin.

Malone Mukwende is a student at St George’s, University of London. This second year student decided to write a book titled “Mind the Gap” in order to help other medical students know what certain symptoms look like on dark skin compared to light skin. 

Mukwende told the British Medical Journal, “On arrival at medical school I noticed a lack of teaching about darker skin. We were often taught to look for symptoms, such as rashes, in a way that I knew wouldn’t appear on my own skin.”

Rashes aren’t the only symptoms that Mukwende points out as being different on light skin as compared to dark skin. He mentioned that terms like someone looking “pale” or their “lips turning blue” won’t look the same either, and these are important distinctions to make. Asking if a black person looks pale most likely won’t be very helpful.

Mukwende explains, “These are not useful descriptors for a black patient and, as a result, their care is compromised from the first point of contact. It is essential we begin to educate others so they are aware of such differences and the power of the clinical language we currently use.”

In the video below, listen to Mukwende explain why he feels it was so important to create the “Mind the Gap” handbook.


St George’s agrees that this is an important project, and they are baking Mukwende’s “Mind the Gap” handbook project. They have partnered him with several lecturers to help him get the book published. The first edition of the handbook will be available in coming months.