Why Representation Matters in Family Medicine: An Interview with Dr. Abdullahi Berih
Tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Dr. Abdullahi Berih, and I’m a Family Doctor who is part of the Humber River Family Health Team. My plan after med school was to return to practice medicine in Africa, but after graduating from Dalhousie I began practicing medicine in the Canadian army.
Over 20 ago after leaving the army, I moved to Etobicoke and I have been practicing family medicine here ever since. I joined the Humber River Family Health Team about 15 years ago and serve on their board.
What is a Family Doctor?
Family doctors provide regular care, preventative care, and even chronic care to individuals in our communities. To me, family medicine is community service; we meet our community’s healthcare needs.
What makes you proud to be part of the Humber River Family Health Team?
Humber’s catchment area is incredibly diverse. Some of the neighbourhoods in our catchment are particularly underserved, home to working-class families and many newcomers to Canada.
So in addition to being innovative thought leaders in healthcare, we are serving populations that really need our care.
My practice in particular happens to include a lot of lower-income new immigrants. At the beginning of the pandemic I noticed that I was seeing more cases of COVID than some of my colleagues. COVID certainly had a disproportionate effect on people living in multi-generational, high-density homes, with less access to information.
Why is it important to have Black physicians and physicians of colour serving in communities like ours?
Representation is very important. It is comforting to many patients to be able to see people like them as part of their healthcare teams. Diversity in healthcare also removes many barriers to accessing proper care, like language. I have patients I am able to speak to in Arabic and Eritrean as well as English, and when diversity of language is offered at a larger scale at the community level, more people can access healthcare.
We as a system need to be supporting the healthcare careers of Black, Indigenous, and other racialized potential future physicians early on, starting in high school or even junior school. It’s a tough road to becoming a doctor, but it is so important to have that representation. Supporting those journeys is essential.
This year’s Canadian Black History Month theme is “Ours to Tell”. What does that mean to you?
I am a poet, and one of the ways I process and share is through writing. One of my poems, Martyrs, is about the Black experience in North America.
Why is it important to you to give back to Humber River Hospital Foundation as a donor?
When it comes to philanthropy, no matter how much you are able to give, you are investing in the future of your community. Being a donor means building a better future for the Hospital and future generations in our community.