South Hampstead High School alumna Grace Spence Green is a junior doctor working to challenge the narratives surrounding disability, medicine and identity. In 2018, aged 22 and a 4th year medical student, she sustained a spinal cord injury and is now a full-time wheelchair user. She is passionate about medicine, advocacy for the disabled community and challenging ableism, the stigma surrounding disability and inaccessible spaces. In 2022, Grace was named Trailblazer of the Year in the GDST Alumna of The Year Awards.
Anger can be a positive emotion
I let things slide a lot before my injury, which I don’t think was always good. I’ve got much more of a backbone now, I’m just more confident in my own worth and what I bring to the table. Emphasising to myself what is acceptable in the moment is so important; living and dealing with microaggressions every day is demoralising and exhausting. I think anger can be really productive and important, in terms of setting boundaries around what language I will accept about myself, what and how I want to be treated by people.
No question is a stupid question
In school I definitely felt like I could ask anything and there wouldn’t be judgement, but it was difficult in medical school to not feel like every question was a bit stupid. It’s such a shame when you’re held back from learning something because you’re worried that you’re going to be judged for asking questions. So now I don’t care if some of my questions sound stupid, because I want to know the answer.
“It’s fine to be a bit weird”
It’s fine to be a bit weird
I was quite unique as a teenager; I was really passionate about certain things, and I wasn’t afraid to talk about those passions. I was obsessed with climbing. Really obsessed. I wore quite weird clothes, but I loved them.
I think it’s so hard being a teenager, especially nowadays, when you’re very much pressured to act and like the things that the dominant society likes. So I’m so grateful that I didn’t do that, even if I was called weird sometimes.
Don’t think about the What Ifs
I don’t like ruminating too much. Since my injury, I’ve felt like what ifs are the most pointless exercise possible. I find them really negative and you can ‘what if’ everything. If you’re considering a better outcome from your ‘what if’, then you have to accept that it could have been much worse. In terms of my injury, I could ask ‘what if I wasn’t there?’, but actually, I could have died. What if that had been the outcome instead?
Be practical, be present
I have learned a lot about how to support friends in a crisis situation through what happened to me and how I saw people react. I had a lot of people messaging me, saying, ‘let me know if there’s anything I can do to help’. That’s the worst response when anything happens to someone, because then you put the onus on me to reach out to you. It’s very non-specific. The people I really appreciated when I was in hospital did practical things, like cooking meals for my family or bringing me things that I needed. Presence is so important, I think.
Our interview with Grace Spence Green was part of our 2023/24 edition of GDST Life alumnae magazine which also includes a whole host of features and articles including stories, tips and viewpoints from a range of alumnae contributors, GDST and school news, our latest alumnae book listings and and how you can keep in touch.