June 18, 2020

Class of 2020: Increasing diversity among physicians benefits all communities

Accountability, commitment, and collaboration are key to bringing about needed change, says graduating medical student Fartoon Siad

Increasing the number of Black medical students in order to graduate and sustain more Black physicians is one of the critical steps toward improving care for our communities, says graduating Cumming School of Medicine student Dr. Fartoon Siad, MD.

“Racism is a public health crisis,” says Siad, co-founder of UCalgary’s Black Medical Students’ Association. “It thrives in medicine, in both covert and overt forms. We need to acknowledge the systemic and institutional practices in place that perpetuate it.”

The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are a recent reminder of how anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism impacts our society, she says.

  • Photo above: Fartoon Siad honoured by the Alberta Council for Global Co-operation as a Top 30 Under 30 in 2016, spoke about her work as an engaged public health researcher during the 2017 Magazine Launch.

“We can do better and we must do better, individually and collectively,” says Siad, a highly decorated student who has earned 26 academic performance awards, along with community recognition and honours, and both a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science from the University of Calgary.

The University of Calgary has committed to being accountable and making changes to policies and practices that harm Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour communities. Their commitment and collaboration are welcomed.

Collaborative engagement vital to learning from communities

Research shows that communities that are underrepresented in medicine often suffer worse health outcomes, and that increasing representation can improve those outcomes, says Siad, a Community Health Sciences graduate whose parents were refugees from Somalia.

She has been an inspiring community advocate for immigrants and refugees in Calgary, as well as overseas, working as both a volunteer and a researcher. She has collaborated with the Somali Canadian Society of Calgary and delivered health education sessions in English and Somali using a train-the-trainer model of community engagement.

During her graduate work, she interviewed women from East Africa, which is a growing migrant community in Alberta, documenting and understanding their health-care experiences in Canada to lessen their health risks.

“There are a million and one things that we can learn from our communities if we take the time to listen,” says Siad. “To understand communities, we must collaboratively engage with them.”

Her grassroots work at The Women’s Centre of Calgary, the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association and Calgary’s Mosaic Refugee Health Clinic, among other organizations and agencies, has augmented her strong academic interests in population and public health.

Student 'creative and effective agent' for social change

“Dr. Siad embodies compassion and has proven herself to be a creative and effective agent for positive and much needed social change,” says associate professor Dr. Doreen Rabi, MD.

She lives her ethics and bravely challenges us to change how we operate so that medicine can be more just. She is a natural leader.

Siad has been a Choosing Wisely Canada Student Ambassador at the national level. The organization develops and promotes evidence-based practice decisions for Canadians, particularly regarding testing and treatment. She has brought her experiences back to the Cumming School of Medicine for incorporation into the curriculum.

During medical school, she received the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Benjamin Kean Fellowship, exploring the impact of malaria in pregnancy on maternal care in rural Ethiopia.

Dr. Fartoon Siad, MD, explored the impact of malaria in pregnancy on maternal care in rural Ethiopia.

During medical school, Dr. Fartoon Siad, MD, (centre) explored the impact of malaria in pregnancy on maternal care in rural Ethiopia.

Mentors fuel motivation to help others

Her work at the Cumming School of Medicine has included being a digital storyteller, combining the art of narrative with digital media, “doing qualitative research to amplify voices that largely remain unheard.”

Having mentors and support at UCalgary while gaining three degrees has been invaluable, she says, adding it has helped to fuel her motivation to help others that she learned from her parents.

For her next steps, Siad has been accepted to the University of Toronto’s Internal Medicine program, where she hopes to incorporate her maternal care interests with her professional expertise as an internist.

Fellow UCalgary medical graduate Dr. Tamara Yee, MD’20, says Siad “takes every opportunity to learn from her patients and do her possible best for them. She’s the physician I would trust with my family and dearest friends.”