Nurse Researcher Honoured with International Hall of Fame Award

Throughout her career, Bukola Salami has studied the well-being of immigrants, particularly young Black people.

Bukola Salami Faculty of Nursing Professor and researcher

Bukola Salami’s dedication to research aimed at improving the health and well-being of immigrants in Canada earned her the 2020 International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame Award from the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. (Photo: John Ulan)

When Bukola Salami immigrated to Canada from Nigeria at the age of 16, she was determined to become a doctor.

But in high school she got a chance to shadow a nurse for a day as part of the University of Toronto’s Summer Mentorship Program for students of Indigenous or African ancestry.

Impressed by what she saw, she decided to start her training in nursing, with a view to switching to medicine later on.

“Once I got into nursing, there was no turning back,” she says. “Honestly, I wouldn’t change it for anything.

“It’s the contact you have with patients—often at very difficult times in their lives—as well as the presence you have at their bedsides and the relationships you develop with communities and families over time.”

Salami received a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Windsor, and after serving for several years as a hematology/oncology nurse and interprofessional educator at at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children—and earning master’s and PhD degrees from the U of T—her primary interests turned to research. 

Now a fast-rising research star in the U of A’s Faculty of Nursing, she has studied the health outcomes of temporary foreign workers and, most recently, the mental health of immigrants in Canada—especially Black children and youth. Her work earned her the 2020 International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame Award from the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing.

In 2018 she created the African Child and Youth Migration Network, which now includes 32 researchers across academic disciplines—including six at the U of A—from Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Rwanda.

“This research and network will assist in developing useful knowledge to improve the lives of vulnerable migrant children, including child and youth victims of human trafficking and those exposed to gun violence,” says Salami.

Children migrating to Canada from Africa—especially East Africa—have among the poorest social, economic and health outcomes in the country, she says.

For those outcomes to improve, health-care providers and government policy makers need to know more about the conditions African children face before and after migrating, says Salami.

“By having an international network of researchers, we can do comparative studies to really look at the best policy for improving the well-being of African child and youth migrants.”

Salami also recently established the Black Youth Mentorship and Leadership Program at the U of A, based on the U of T program that was so crucial to her own development as a high school student.

Pairing Black youth with students and faculty, the program aims to give young people a head start on academic survival skills such as writing scholarly papers, searching for research materials and financing their education. It also exposes them to discussions among Black faculty and students on how to deal with systemic racism and discrimination.

“It seeks to socially and economically empower Black youth to contribute meaningfully to society,” says Salami. “Last year, we had about 35 Black youth go through the program, and the results were amazing.”

Eventually she hopes to expand the program online nationally.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m studying myself,” says Salami. “A lot of research I do is about making things better for people who have gone through what I went through.

“What drives me is a commitment to social justice and equity, to improving the lives of people. I don’t think I would have put in as much work as I have if not for the ability to actually improve lives and outcomes.”