Building African Nova Scotian Health Professionals for the Future

Tuesday, December 8, 2015 - 10:07am

By Corey Aalders

More than 130 students from junior and senior high schools across Halifax gathered for the third annual Striving event on Nov. 19. The event, geared toward African Nova Scotian youth, is aiming to increase the number of African Nova Scotians in health professions.

“This population is missing in the health profession schools”, said Michelle Patrick, Program Coordinator, Promoting Leaders in Health for African Nova Scotians (PLANS). We’re aiming to fill a gap in the industry when it comes to racial representation. There is a missing piece and this is the opportunity.”

Dalhousie’s medical school is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary. The university is approaching its 200th.  Still, fewer than 10 indigenous African Nova Scotians have graduated from the school. However, through the efforts of the community and partners, the medical school currently has its highest enrollment of students of African descent, including a number of generational African Nova Scotians.

Patrick said more African Nova Scotians have graduated in other fields such as nursing and social work. In fields where there has been lower representation in previous years, there has been an increase in the number of graduates, but there’s still much work to do. “We really want health professionals to look like our community, be representative of our community. Having a doctor or dentist who looks like me helps our relationship immediately. It automatically develops a relationship of an understanding that our experience has been similar,” said Patrick.

Workforce diversity is also important to Nova Scotia Health Authority. “A diversified workforce can lead to a healthier African Nova Scotian community,” says Anna Jacobs, Community Development Advisor (Diverse Communities). “The inclusion of African Nova Scotian health professionals in our workforce means we are able to develop and offer culturally relevant services and programs to the community.”

Youth at the event heard from role models in their communities who are working in the health care sector. They shared their experiences as an example of what education and a career in health care can offer.

Dr. Tesia Rolle opened the event by sharing her personal journey to becoming a dentist.

“I was tired of working for other people and living pay cheque to pay cheque. I realized that time was passing by anyways and I knew where I wanted to be at the end of that time. I discovered my goal, and put in the work to accomplish my dream.”

“I wake in the morning excited for the day ahead of me, because I am doing something I am passionate about and making a difference in people’s lives.”

Students left the discussion acquainted and informed about the potential health careers available to them.

“I’ve always wanted to be an electrical engineer, but now after this, it has opened my eyes to health professions. Now, I am going to look into some of the careers we talked about today,” said Ahmed Kamal, Grade 9 student from Ridgecliff Middle School.

Students learned about potential professions in occupational therapy, dietetics, social work, ultrasound, dental hygiene and nursing among others.

Kamal said he didn’t know what courses he would need to take in high school to get into certain university programs. The Striving event helped him realize the importance of planning for his future now.  

The event is a partnership between Nova Scotia Health Authority, Dalhousie, IWK, Nova Scotia Community College, Association of Black Social Workers, the Health Association of African Canadians and Schools Plus. Plans are in the works to host similar events across the province.