Inspiring inclusion through health research: An interview with Dr. Salami, HRF Diversity and Equity in Research Award recipient 

This International Women’s Day, the HRF is excited to share a perspective from the inaugural winner of our Diversity & Equity in Research Award. Dr. Salami’s career journey involves a series of pivotal moments, each contributing to shaping her path and perspectives. For Dr. Salami, the trajectory into health research was not a linear progression but a combination of experiences, mentors, and introspection. Today, she is committed to understanding and advocating for health equity as she explores the influences, challenges, and transformative power of inclusion in a pursuit of research excellence.

What got you into the health research field?

In 1998, I completed the Summer Mentorship Program at the University of Toronto.  I was in Grade 11/12 at that time. The program was designed to improve the number of Black people in the health sciences, especially in medicine. The experience paved the way for my future career in nursing.  In 1999, the co-founder and coordinator of the Summer Mentorship Program helped me secure a position at a neuroscience lab at the University of Toronto. She was trying to pilot a second-year experience for students in the Summer Mentorship Program.  I ended up working with a Masters student in a neuroscience lab at the University of Toronto.  The Masters thesis was related to improving epilepsy outcomes by testing interventions on rats.  In 2004, I began my Bachelor of Nursing at the University of Windsor. At that time, Janssen Ortho was offering a summer internship program for children of employees, which gave me the opportunity to support the marketing team for two of their products. I also worked at different health agencies over the summer, and during my undergraduate studies, several of my professors were completing their PhDs which exposed me to their journeys.  

My initial goal in high school was to become a clinician (specifically medical doctor).  However, all my experiences led me to be increasingly exposed to research.  After around 1.5 years of clinical experience, I decided to complete a Masters and then a PhD in nursing.  My PhD was more sociological.  It was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Doctoral Award.  The focus was on the migration of Philippine educated nurses to Ontario through the Live-in Caregiver Program which I approached with a transnational feminist lens. After my PhD, my research increasingly shifted from research on temporary foreign workers, to research on immigrant health and now much more on Black and racialized peoples’ health.

Who was the most influential person in your career path thus far?

I have had several influences on my career path at different stages. Over the last 15 years, the most influential person has been my doctoral supervisor, Dr. Sioban Nelson.  She is quite strategic and always has the best advice.  After my PhD, we decided not to collaborate on projects for the initial years so that I can develop as an independent researcher.  However, she has continued to be my best mentor. 

How does inclusion impact your research?

I believe the strongest influences of inclusion on my research is that it supports the ability to have an impact while also innovating.  When individuals who have been sidelined in prevailing discussions are brought into the center of discussions, new ideas are formed and innovation is sparked. It lets you consider what others may not have considered in the past or gaps that may exist for potential impact. Inclusion enables us to think outside of the possibilities of prevailing notions and also to shatter prominent norms.

What does it mean to you to “inspire inclusion”?

For me, inspiring inclusion means a commitment to social justice which is a critical piece of the feminist agenda.  

The first step of this commitment is an awareness of one’s social location. It means reflecting on the broader historical, political, and social context that has contributed to one’s positioning, including class positions.  For example, a male senior executive may think: “How did I become a senior executive? Why was I mentored into the position? Why wasn’t a woman mentored into the position? What has been the trajectory of women who graduated from university at the same time as me? How has their gendered roles, including reproductive care work, impacted my career? In what ways has historical turns, including inclusion of women in education shaped or played a role on who is in positions of power? How has this contributed to my location in the society or organization? What obligations do I have towards social justice and how can I ensure more inclusive excellence or environment.” It also means a reflection on one’s privileges and in relational terms, how those privileges are a source of oppression for others. 

An individual who is committed to inspiring inclusion should commit to acting to achieve social justice.  One way to contribute to a more inclusive world is to mentor people who have a different background, gender or race.  It also involves engagement of women and gender diverse people in ways that amplify their strengths. I strongly believe that awareness, mentorship, and strength-based engagement can help empower and inspire inclusion.

What would you say to young women who are laying the foundation for their careers?  

Women and girls are strong.  Stay focused on your long-term goal. 


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