Faculty of Nursing Alumna Named One of Alberta's Top 30 Under 30

Asmaa Ali recognized for passion for social justice and promoting health for vulnerable communities

11 February 2021

University of Alberta Faculty of Nursing alumna Asmaa Ali, 23, is celebrated in the 10th annual Alberta Council for Global Cooperation 2019 Top 30 Under 30 for her unwavering dedication to fostering health equity for vulnerable populations. 

Growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, as a Muslim and first-generation Somali-Canadian born to refugee parents, Ali experienced firsthand the challenges minority populations face in accessing healthcare. 

“I have spent a lot of time navigating the healthcare system with family members. We faced many unique challenges that continued to go unaddressed, so I wanted to be a part of fostering health equity for minority communities,” says Ali, who graduated from the class of 2020 and currently works in Cardiology Medicine. 

The Top 30 Under 30 Award is an annual campaign by the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation featuring 30 exceptional recipients for their inspiring work in “making the world a more just, fair, and sustainable place for all.” 

Learn more about the advocacy work Ali is currently involved in, how she fosters healthy equity, and her aspirations for the future through her Q&A with the Faculty of Nursing: 

How did you feel when you heard the news you were awarded Alberta's Top 30 Under 30 by the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation?

I was overjoyed! It is such exciting news. Winning this award has brought me many new connections and opportunities I wouldn't have otherwise received. I'm always looking for ways to implement health equity in Nursing practice, and this recognition of my hard work is bringing me closer to my goal. 

Can you explain in more detail what advocacy work you are involved in?

I am involved with several initiatives locally and nationally. After attending the political conference "Daughters of the Vote" and experiencing a lot of online racism for presence in the House of Commons, I created a nationally recognized art piece, "Flip The Script." I am a freelance photographer so creating this portrait series challenging the narrative of Islamophobia was deeply important to me. This portrait series has been featured across CBC and Canada's largest International Muslim film festival, "Mosquers." 

From this, I've gone on to work with the Canadian Council for Youth Prosperity, creating policy to shape youth workforce development in light of COVID-19. I've created an array of health resources for marginalized communities, including a national sexual assault resource guide for Somali Canadians and post-surgical care resources in Somali to help with language barriers. More recently, I provide equity, diversity, and inclusion training to organizations in Alberta and across Canada, sharing my unique perspective and lived experiences as a black Muslim woman with youth and non-profits. 

How do you foster health equity?

The best way to detect biases in healthcare and to mitigate them is to be aware of the unconscious biases we hold ourselves. Being blind to your own biases as a healthcare provider means you are causing harm. I have interacted with many healthcare providers who say that they treat every one of their patients the same as a testament to their belief in equality. Still, equity and equality are two very different things. People have intersectional identities; data proves that women, LGBTQ+ populations, Black communities, and immigrant communities have worse health outcomes due to their unique circumstances remaining unaddressed by health professionals. Care providers that immediately ask for pronouns, look up a patient's religious and cultural sensitivities, and always ask questions are the ones who are truly mitigating harm.

Treating people "the same" means skimming the surface, and that's not enough. Being committed to health equity means fostering justice by building care plans based on each patient's unique needs. 

In 2021, it's important that we recognize the needs of those with intersectional identities in our spaces and constantly remain teachable. Blanket statements, zero-tolerance policies, and "everyone deserves the same" no longer cut it, especially when we are responsible for public safety. Unlearning is the key to fostering health equity and equity in all spaces.

Where do you see your work (as an RN and advocate) taking you in the future?

Soon, I hope to find a role in community health or public health nursing where my skills and knowledge in health equity can be put to good use. I also plan to pursue graduate studies in the future to further my expertise in health equity and shape health policy here in Canada.    

Interested in learning more about ACGC’s Top 30 Under 30 Award and the 2021 Top 30 Under 30 cohort? Click here: https://top30under30.acgc.ca/