Faces of Black Health

Creating diverse and inclusive environments

Ruth Boachie

Ruth Boachie - Nutrition and Dietetics

We had the opportunity of connecting with Ruth Boachie whose background is in nutrition and food science having studied at the University of Ghana (BSc. Nutrition and Food Science), and then later obtaining her Masters of Applied Human Nutrition from Mount Saint Vincent University.

So Ruth, what you do you currently do in your work?

I am currently a Quality and Research and Development coordinator at Nova Scotia Organics. We make whole food based dietary supplements that are certified organic.

Can you describe your role in nutrition?

As per my job, I ensure that whatever finished products we send out to the consumer meets Quality standards and [that] it is safe for consumption. I also work to develop new products that have beneficial effects on health.

Can you explain your experiences of and the ability to access healthy food choices, and other food services?

This might be easier for me considering that I studied nutrition in school. I studied how food and its components affect the body when it’s eaten, and the role it plays on the overall health outcome of an individual.

So, I am able to make my meals with affordable food items that I know will provide health benefits. I find that it requires much intentional efforts to look out for these products since it is easier to access food with low nutrient content.

However, the challenge I see with respect to this is that, most people think healthy food is ‘expensive’. This might be true to some extent but not always.

This will go a long to improve our food choices and overall health.

How have you found or are you finding community in your profession?

I have had much connection with the general community, and other professionals in different Health sectors. I have had several nutrition education activities with different groups and I found that interesting because I got to share very practical ways of making healthy food choices.

There is always room for improvement, so the Black Health professionals can be a driving force in reducing risk factors for chronic diseases in the Black population. Considering that Blacks have high risk in developing diet related chronic diseases, it is only expedient that we come together to share knowledge.

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Korede Akindoju

Korede Akindoju - Physiotherapy

What do you do?

Currently I have two jobs, I work primarily as a Wellness Facilitator a Community Health team and I also work as a traditional physiotherapist in a private clinic with Zoomers Health.  

What is your role in your Health Profession? 

As mentioned above my primary work is as a Wellness Facilitator (physiotherapy) with Community Health teams. Community Health teams offer free health and wellness programs that focus on physical health, emotional health, and diet and nutrition. In our practice we also facilitate wellness navigation, which involves helping individuals find and discover resources within their community to help improve their physical activity, housing, parenting, financial needs, and other social determinants of health.

Secondly, I work as your traditional physiotherapist with Zoomers health, which is a private practice. In this role I assist patients improve their functional ability from a physical perspective. Some things that I do in my role as physiotherapist are to perform manual therapy, demonstrate and assist with resistance exercises, and educate on functional management.  

Can you share your experience(s) as a Black Health professional in your field? 

One thing I’d like to share is the lack of Black faces in the room. I truly enjoy my work and I work with wonderful people, however, there is some essence of finding and having that connection with another Black person in the field. Discussions around shared experiences become significantly easier to have and relate to one another. Having a discussion with a face similar to yours allows that sense of confidence and validation in your experiences.

Secondly, being a minority in the field, allows for the opportunity to share new ideas, perspectives, and experiences of overlooked populations with coworkers. These ideas range from ideas on how to improve access for minority groups to insight on cultural competence and intelligence ideas.

Can you explain your experiences and ability to access health services? 

What went well?

Personally, I haven’t had many issues with accessing the health care system. However, I’ve been recently involved with community organizations that are improving access for minorities. When patients that come share their experiences and stories it is very discouraging. They discuss how the health care system has failed to provide proper care for them. Especially, it is more troubling when patients suggest they were judged by their health care provider based on sex, race, ethnicity, and disability. As health care providers, it is our duty to provide the best quality of care for people seeking our services, thus, we honestly have to do better. This experience being involved with these organizations has helped me understand the importance and necessity of providing great healthcare to our community.

What could go better?

With the community health team, one of our main focuses is discussing and introducing behavior change. Changing your behavior is key to improving your lifestyle. I think that with any form of medical intervention, when approaching your patient, you always want to make sure you practice non-judgmental curiosity. You’ll find that you will build rapport with your patients and provide well rounded and improved health care.

How have you found/finding community in your profession? 

In the physiotherapy profession, there are a lot of opportunities to take part in different disciplines. Prior to physiotherapy school, I thought physiotherapists only worked in clinics and provide care for physical ailments. I would never have imagined I would be where I am today, working with a community health team, which provides treatment that is not necessarily considered traditional physiotherapy work (i.e. manual therapy), but more educational and physical activity-based treatment. So, there are lots of opportunities to learn and jobs that will help enhance and expand your skillset!

Social media handles: 

IG: rederehab

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Crystal Watson

Crystal Watson - Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist

What do you do?

I am currently the Executive Director for Recreation Nova Scotia, a non-profit organization striving to improve connection within the recreation sector so that we can promote and advocate the benefits of recreation as part of the lives of Nova Scotians!

What’s your role in your health Profession?

Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS)

I am a Recreation Therapist by training, credentialed through National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS). My primary role as a Recreation Therapist is to use recreation and leisure opportunities as a therapeutic tool. We consider the recreation interests and experiences of the individual we are working with, and we also take into consideration what their needs are or any kind of barriers that they experience that may be a consequence of their current health state. It really is about recreation and leisure and how we can make improvements to one’s overall health!

If you feel comfortable sharing, can you explain your experiences as a Black Health professional in your field?

I wish I could say it was easy. I was the first person of African descent to be a Recreation Therapist in Nova Scotia and I think with that alone comes a lot of expectations. We don’t necessarily have to explain the particular preconceived notions that some people may have of you when you go into these particular environments that you may not necessarily feel safe in. Healthcare is not something that folks of African descent are necessarily accessing or feel safe in those spaces, and for me that was a challenge that I had to overcome. At times, being the only one in the role that I was in, meaning that I was responsible for making decisions I was accountable for, sometimes you would have your judgements questioned, which made you think that you weren’t doing things right. So, for a period of time I second guessed my abilities to do the job and do the job effectively, but I quickly grew out of that and realized that I had the expertise and that there were opportunities for me to contribute in positive ways. I was reassured, as a result of my contributions by the reactions of the clients, which is, I think, what helped me to realize that I was doing ok and didn’t need to be validated by my co-workers because the work that I was doing with the clients spoke for itself.

Can you explain your experiences and ability to access health services?

I think as I matured, and because of my education, that made accessing health a lot easier, because I knew what kind of information I was looking for based on my own training. Of course, that puts you in a place of privilege because you kind of know, but at the same time your knowledge can be questioned by the health care professional, they may have some preconceived notions about you.

What tends to go well with me when it comes to healthcare is the fact that I try to equip myself a little bit when it comes to wanting to have the information that I need or that I feel that I need.

I’m not always sure that health care professionals sometimes think about the broader context of cultural competency. It’s really challenging because I think a lot of the times we are inundated with this information about cultural competency, and we think that “oh I took into consideration that this person is of African descent” and created this sort of checkbox system, but we don’t think about anything else that is going on in that person’s life. This is something that we could do better as health care professionals on a broader scale. If I’m a person experiencing a specific health issue, that may be one of many things that may be happening with me that has an impact on my health. So, if I’m caring for a parent, or I have young children, or I live in a really bad neighbourhood, or I don’t have a job, all of those determinants of health are what I think we need to be more conscientious of when we’re working with individual’s who specifically come from communities where there is a level of vulnerability or marginalization, or whatever terminology we choose, but they are just grossly impacted by a system that just wasn’t created for them.

How have you found/finding community in your profession?

It’s actually interesting because I graduated from my undergrad degree in 2000, and there were a few of us that went into Therapeutic Recreation and I’d say that we’re still very close today! We still connect, and so for me community in the profession begins there and having those key folks in my circle. The Therapeutic Recreation community is closely knit anyways, though at times I feel that I am a little removed from it now because of my current role, I know when I was in it there were fantastic mentors and professionals in the field that I felt comfortable connecting to and brainstorming and working with through professional organizations, which I think is really important. I think all students should become involved in their professional organization and maintain those connections as a professional.  It’s very valuable for us to maintain that network so that we establish appropriate communities of practice but also having that continuous learning that comes from understanding what your colleagues are doing and how they are contributing to the field.

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Kelly Carrington

Kelly Carrington - Registered Massage Therapy (RMT) & Doula

What do you do?

I am a dad of three boys primarily, a husband, and also a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT), have been for 18 years, and I run my own mobile massage therapy company. I am also a birth doula.

What’s your role in your health Profession?

As an RMT I provide massage therapy services, but my company model is mobile, so I go to companies and I go to people’s residence to provide services. As a birth doula I provide education to families, prenatally, I provide physical and emotional support during the the birth day itself, and then provide postpartum support for the families as long as they need afterwards, but nothing clinical. Doulas do not deliver babies, which is the biggest misconception, that is for the OB/GYN and midwives.

A lot of it is education, so before the baby comes we will go through prenatal education, so pretty much anything they want to know about, whether that is the physical changes in the body or the physiology of the actual act of birth and what happens, all the hormone changes, etc., and during that time we make a plan on how they would like to see the outcome of this happen. Obviously, they’d want mom, baby and family healthy, but how do you actually go about doing that? Now it is often very medicalized, and it doesn’t always need to be, and people don’t know that.

Most people think that you get pregnant, go to the hospital, have your baby and go home, but you don’t have to do all of those things. You have choice along the way and people need to know about their informed choices and what decisions they can make, and that’s where I come in to give them all of those options that are there for them to choose from. If they decide to choose them or not, it is [more] about them having the option to know what they can actually do, because a lot of people go in and follow what the doctors say. The doctor’s job is to keep mom and baby safe, but sometimes in that, people feel that at the end of the day they weren’t really listened to, they did not have much choice, and feel that they have given over their own power about their own body, and for women that’s important for them to know that it is their body and anyone that is going to touch you does need informed consent.

You have so many options of how you get to having your baby, people just need to be educated on how that process works, and that’s where I come in. I am there with them during the birth the entire time and helping them physically and making sure that both parties are fed, have water and if they have any questions. I am there with the family, so they feel like I am one of their team. Afterwards, it is hard because there is breastfeeding, and healing from possible surgery, and all those types of things, still in a non-clinical setting, but I am there to support them with all of that because I have been there since the beginning.

If you have/feel comfortable sharing, can you explain your experiences as a Black Health professional in your field?

I honestly don’t really have any. I am biracial, I grew in that household, so I don’t know what it’s like not to be, but I don’t think it’s ever been an issue, I mean I kind of stand out like a sore thumb, not only because it’s a very female dominated profession, both RMT and Doula, and I was the first male to be certified through DONA, first in Canada and Nova Scotia, and the fact that I am a Black guy, well I guess is a good thing, only because when you picture in your mind what a Doula is, this is not what you picture. I’ve always said I don’t think it matters that I’m a man, and it doesn’t matter that I am a Black man, it is my intention of what I’m doing that matters, it is the intention that the work is in the right place, that’s what matters. For me it’s the right fit for me and works well, what I look like I don’t think matters as much compared to the work that I do.

Can you explain your experiences and ability to access health services?

I have three boys, and with kids you’re always in the hospital at some point. There was one particular time where it was sort of a defining moment, and my wife and I dealing with the decision of who is going to go to emerg. I stayed home with all three kids when they were younger before they went to school and then ran my business in the evenings, and there was a time where my middle guy broke his arm at pre-school, so I had to take him to emerg and I was there for a long time, like a really really long time. Then my wife showed up and he was taken care of right away. I hate to read into it too much, it could have been circumstance, his arm wasn’t hanging off by a thread, but he still had a broken arm and the amount of time that I was there with him sitting in a room [where] he was watching an iPad that they gave us while waiting for x-rays, compared to the amount of time that she [wife] was there, where he got attended to, casted and discharged was significantly shorter. So since then, if there is something that needs to happen, like if we have to take the kids to the IWK, she [wife] goes. I’m not saying that one incident is indicative of the care that I get, or my children get when I go there, but I don’t know what other people’s experiences are, and that one experience changed the way that my wife and I decided who is going to go. It was nothing that was overt, but after the fact when I was driving home, I was mad, only because it’s not about me, it’s about my child, he needed to get some stuff done. I don’t know what was happening in that emerg at the time, but that was the only incident in my entire life that I ever was “oh”. So now, my wife and I do have that discussion that “well maybe you should go” and it really pains me to say that, but that’s the reality, we had to have that discussion because of that one experience.

That’s the only time that I’ve had any dealings with the healthcare system that I was like “hmmm interesting”, but I don’t want to make it a huge thing because I don’t know if that is what actually happened, it was just an observation, but is that observation enough?

Imagine all the other families that have to take their kids in there, or are being treated themselves, they do not know what it is not like to be a visible minority going into that same situation. The job of the hospital is to take care of whoever comes in, period.

How have you found/finding community in your profession?

Within the massage profession I’ve been around for a long time, so I’m very involved with the Massage Therapy association Nova Scotia, I’ve been on the board, served two terms as president and now vice president, I’m very involved in the massage community.

Within the Doula community, I was on the board for a short term. I am an accepted member of the community.  But I’m quite involved in my profession.

Where can we find you?

You can find me on my website; www.evolutionmassage.ca!

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Mario Rolle

Mario Rolle - Master of Social Work, Program coordinator Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative

What do you do?

I am a social worker; I work for the Nova Scotia Brotherhood (NSBI) as a wellness navigator.

What’s your role in your health Profession?

NSBI is a free health program for Black men. We provide [wellness and health] navigation, we have a family doctor, psychiatrist, and a psychologist. My job as a navigator is to help men of African descent navigate not only the health system, but anything that affects the social determinants of health. Any day it could be different, one day it could be health, the next day it could be justice, the next day it could be employment, it varies.

If you have/feel comfortable sharing, can you explain your experiences as a Black Health professional in your field?

Well it’s hard.

When I say it’s hard, I mean this organization is the only one in Canada, and so it’s a learning process. As we go, we learn, and we pick up stuff. The program is holistic, so it’s not an ordinary healthcare or community health team. I work with various people, so my work day can look different every day.

It is hard being the only Black organization. Some of the problems that we face and try to take to management, the understanding of the client’s needs and our needs is really complicated to resolve and comprehend.

Now is this a hierarchal, budget, or needs issue?

When we talk about systematic racism or institutional racism, for people of African descent when you’re dealing with an organization like Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA), they want to see data. Some initiatives under this organizations may say “let’s try this initiative and see if it works”, but for us it’s almost like we have to provide data to prove that what we do works.

With the brotherhood, we work and create data. While I’m doing this job, I am creating programming, and I am creating a position in here to prove and show management, and to show the community that this program is necessary.

For instance, in the court system there isn’t a Black advocate for individuals of African descent. So, what I did I created a position in there through the Brotherhood where I can come in and advocate on behalf of individuals of African descent. Before an individual [of African descent] goes up before the judge, they would advise that individual to see Mario, and if it is a female [of African descent] they would advise her to see Mario, and I would refer her to a female organization or an organization that does not only deal with men.

So, for us, we use the H word, holistic. So, you know when you go to a doctor you see a doctor for 15 minutes, for us, it’s like you come in and we first have to build a relationship, because if we don’t build a relationship with clients, they’re not going to open up to us. So it will be 15 minutes or 5 minutes seeing the client, because when the client sees us, they basically already know who we are and how were are going to respond to them, if they feel like we’re going to be volatile or hostile with them they’re going to shut-down and barriers are going to be risen.

Can you explain your experiences and ability to access health services?

To be honest, as an ordinary person, it’s hard versus me being an employee of NSHA. Being a Black person, a lot of people they do talk about racism, and sometimes racism almost wants to be a taboo word, and no one wants to talk about it. When I go into the hospital, I’m treated differently than a NSHA employee. When I go in as an ordinary person, it takes a longer time for me to get the help that I need.

Recently, I [my wife] had a baby, and I wanted to try and see if it works. I went there one day dressed as an ordinary person in chill and comfortable clothing, and it was almost like I was looked down and shunned. Until the nurse came in and was talking to my wife and was asking what she did and what does her husband do, and when my wife told them what I did, the whole atmosphere changed, because now “he’s” a social worker. So now how I was perceived at the beginning has changed, everyone is now nice to me.

As Black people, especially for professionals, we have to do extra to prove ourselves, for a Lawyer, doctor, they can dress any way and they are respected regardless. Before I graduated from Dalhousie University, I went to Saint Mary’s. What I did while I was there, I never cut my beard and wear a sweater with my hood up. I would be looking like an old man and I was judged. But those people didn’t know what I did, and it’s the same way now 4-5 years later, I’m now a clinical social worker and basically I have to dress the part as a Black man to be respected, and sometimes I’m still not respected because I am challenged with what I know because of the letters I have behind my name, it’s like you have to do double as a Black health professional.

How have you found/finding community in your profession?

One thing I love about NSHA is that they have allowed me to create this program. I am not micromanaged, I have an amazing director, and they just let me go with it. We held a men’s conference in November, we didn’t have a conference plan, but they wanted us to do an event, and the director assured that whatever the men wanted to do we could make it happen. So, I want to say that I have great support when it comes to management at NSHA.

I also rely a lot on the Association of Black Social workers (ABSW), and if I need an organization to advocate on my behalf, as well as HAAC (Health Association of African Canadians).

Where I’m at right now is amazing. For management the Brotherhood has amazing supports, and the community groups (ABSW & HAAC) are very supportive. Also, other organizations like justice and housing supports us as well because we do a lot of work with them. One day I could be working in health, the next day I could be working with someone from justice, the next day someone from housing, someone from child protection. That’s one thing that I like about this position that I do, it is not restricted just to health.

Announcements for the audience?

We are planning the second annual Men’s Health conference, so stay tuned for details.

What is the Men’s Health league?

It is an organization where we bring 1 male figure from each community to sit at our table to discuss issues that are affecting our communities. For example, if incarceration rate is affecting our community, we talk about how we deal with a situation like this. Once we devise a plan, the groups might say we need to do some workshops on employment for persons re-entering into community from incarceration. It is what the community wants, my job is to take their ideas to management and make sure it happens.

Our programs are free, if you want to see a doctor it’s free, if you want to see a psychiatrist or psychologist it’s free, but you have to be referred by our doctor. The brotherhood is something like a quick fix, we’re that service that addresses the gap in the system for people until they can find a more permanent solution.