Abiba Salahou, MD, recipient of the 2023 Award for Excellence in Public Health

Abiba Salahou, MD, has a long commitment to public health and advocacy, never seeking or anticipating high-level recognition for her work.

However, Salahou was recently awarded the 2023 Public Health Achievement Award by the United States Public Health Service Physician Professional Advisory Committee. She was formally recognized for the honor at the 2023 Honors Convocation on May 11.

Salahou said she was “surprised” and “honored” to have received the award.

“I didn’t really expect that, just because I know there are a lot of really amazing classmates here who do a lot of volunteer work in the community and also do a lot of great initiatives…n’ any one of us would have easily earned the same award,” she said. “It was a really, really good surprise. I am also extremely honored.

“It was nice to have some recognition that confirms how much I care about improving the communities I will serve,” Salahou added.

“Having this recognition just before starting my residency has been really special, because I really want to continue this work as a doctor.”

She received the email letting her know she would be receiving the award on the same day as game day, adding to the already exciting day when she found out she was twinned in psychiatry at Yale University.

“It was a phenomenal day, definitely the best day of my medical school career,” she said.

Overcome barriers
Salahou’s first exposure to the medical field was when she was growing up in Syracuse, NY. She accompanied her grandmother on trips to the doctor to translate for her from English to Yoruba.

“Seeing with my own eyes the differential treatment she would receive as a non-English speaking patient really struck me,” Salahou said.

“It got me interested in health care disparities and understanding why we have so much health care inequality,” she added. “And why things like language barriers create such a big gap in patient care.”

Abiba Salahou was all smiles on match day.

Additionally, she credits growing up in an urban environment for exposing her to health care disparities. Salahou spent time volunteering with local refugee organizations in New York and Nicaragua when she was an undergrad.

“(In Nicaragua), I was able to put the public health context into a larger global scale and look at all the things I saw growing up in New York and compare it to what I saw abroad,” she said. “It heightened my interest (in medicine).”

Overall, she said she finds medicine a suitable field for advocating for marginalized populations.

“What excites me most is improving the conditions and communities I see around me, as well as raising awareness and shedding light on the daily difficulties and challenges that occur, by particularly within marginalized and underserved communities,” said Salahou.

“Medicine is really one of the most perfect fields to solve this problem,” she added. “We are in a unique position as medical students because on the one hand we have that perspective, being members of the community ourselves, but we also learn alongside doctors and other medical students. and learn firsthand how the medical system works.”

Time in OUWB
After graduating from Bard College with a biology degree, Salahou wanted to find a medical school that matched her values ​​and interests, particularly in community organizing and activism. She found OUWB to be the place that ticked her boxes.

“When I was interviewing at medical schools, I really paid attention to schools that talked about community service, wanted students to be involved and engaged, and wanted students to be involved in those conversations,” he said. she declared.

During her interview with OUWB, she was struck by the initiatives put in place to involve students in community service.

“It really seemed like the emphasis on community service was not just meant to be displayed on the (OUWB) website, but something that was high priority,” Salahou said. “As a student here, it’s been so easy to tap into local organizations and get involved because there are already so many community partnerships…so I think the focus and focus on the community service ended up being true.”

Salahou’s history of involvement with OUWB and the surrounding community is long – during her four years at the institution, she was involved in several student organizations. She joined the Psychiatry Interest Group in 2021, and was the M3 student representative and research liaison. In this group, she established a research component of the group to engage students in the research aspect of psychiatry.

Salahou had been part of the National Student Medical Association since 2020 and served on the group’s board of directors, where she helped organize the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Health Fair at Chandler Park Academy High. School and created on-campus programs to educate physicians. students about the challenges faced by patients and students from minority backgrounds. Other student groups she has participated in and held leadership positions include the Pediatric Interest Group, the Mental Health Advocates Group, and the Family Medicine Interest Group.

Outside of the OUWB, Salahou has been involved with several community organizations, including the Oakland County Lighthouse.

“I worked closely (with them) to create a longitudinal research project assessing the impact of emotional distress during the COVID-19 pandemic on emotional distress in food insecure people living in the south -eastern Michigan,” she said.

Along with this research, Salahou created a virtual mental health toolkit for community members.

What Salahou is most proud of, however, is the call to action she created in 2020.

“I led the initiative to create an anti-racist call-to-action initiative at medical school that involved meeting one-on-one with faculty members…and thinking about how we can better increase diversity within the program and better increase our conversation about a lot of public health issues that I felt were not being adequately addressed,” she said. “I also had a lot of help from other classmates who were just as passionate.”

“(We) created a detailed document that outlines how we wanted OUWB to address our eight main action items, including things like improving the preclinical program to improve conversations about race, gender, sexuality, socio-economic status and things like that,” she added. “(Another action item was) to increase the representation of diverse patient groups within our clinical teaching…we also had conversations about increasing racial diversity within the student body itself.”

In response to the document, Salahou said “quite substantial changes to the program” had been made, including new conferences in the preclinical program and the creation of a call-to-action task force. She was also involved in creating a conference audit report at OUWB to see how often topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion were mentioned, which was then presented at conferences. national.

Looking ahead to her residency, Salahou said the same values ​​that guided her to OUWB guided her to Yale.

“At Yale, there is one of the few psychiatry programs in the country that is truly known for its social justice and community mental health work. As part of the program, they have a whole social justice and anti-racism agenda,” she said. “It spoke to me directly.”

“I think it’s come full circle…I feel like I’m pinching myself every time I think about the residency, but I’m extremely excited and honored to be able to train there, and super excited to continue to be involved and passionate about advocating for marginalized patient populations.

To request an interview, visit the OUWB Communications & Marketing webpage.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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