Aisha Haji Hussein connected to her community well before she connected with her chosen career. I was indecisive. I thought I would be a journalist or CEO.” When she was studying business administration and neuroscience at the University of Winnipeg, medicine sparked her interest.

That spark became a flame as a volunteer with Women’s Health Clinic.

It was there that I saw myself enjoying a career in medicine, one where I could make an impact,” said Aisha, now a medical student at the University of Manitoba, where she advocates for equity and inclusion initiatives as part of the Black Medical Students Association in addition to other leadership roles on and off campus.

Becoming a Black medical learner arrives with a weightiness that others don’t find themselves having to carry, referred to as the minority tax. There are extra responsibilities and unpaid labour that minorities do to increase diversity in academia. Because there are so few Black medical learners, I often feel compelled to complete tasks and commit to roles so there is a Black perspective.

This is a role I proudly embrace, but it can become draining. I often have multiple people to mentor, multiple events to organize and multiple committees I’m on in addition to my obligations as a student. If I don’t do it, who will?”

Her commitment to diversity is one of the reasons Aisha was named one of Doctors Manitoba’s Top 40 Under 40. Diversity is necessary in order to have an equitable and just health care system. Studies have shown that having a doctor with the same race and ethnicity improves patient outcomes. It’s imperative that the composition of physicians mirrors the diversity of the population across all levels.”

As she continues to grow her skills, she looks to build the qualities she identifies as those of a good leader in medicine, including vision, bravery and compassion. 

Medicine is ever-evolving. Innovation and strategic thinking are necessary to drive meaningful changes.” Bravery is needed to challenge the status quo and prioritize what is right over the opinions of peers, she said.

Compassion is crucial in order to understand patients and empathize with issues that people navigating the healthcare system feel, even if you have not experienced those challenges yourself. Recognize the human impact of your decisions and let that guide the choices that you make.”

While she identifies time management skills as an additional quality of a leader, she notes one of the most complex challenges women in medicine face is balancing personal and professional life. The workplace culture and expectations within medicine are not conducive to having a fruitful personal life, with family commitments of children and a partner.” 

In the future, she sees herself working in a clinic that prioritizes immigrant and refugee health. I would like to continue participating in mentorship roles within the Black Medical Students Association. I also hope to pursue opportunities to address healthcare disparities both nationally and abroad. I dream of contributing to international medicine initiatives in the future.”

In looking forward, Aisha also reflects on the advice she would give her younger self. One quote that resonates with me is a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.’ If you do not ask or apply yourself, you will never get it. Apply for the scholarship, apply for the job, ask for the opportunity. 

The worst thing that someone can tell you is no, and once you get comfortable with the idea of being rejected, you will lose the apprehension to work towards the things you want. Every no” is a stepping stone towards success. Act with integrity and trust yourself to make choices that align with your moral standards, and everything will fall into place, personally and professionally.”

Her advice specifically for Black learners interested in pursuing medicine includes finding a mentor in another Black medical leaner, by asking around or discovering them online in places like @uofm.bmsa on Instagram. She also emphasized doing the things you enjoy in your spare time that aren’t tied to an identity as a pre-med student, from community involvement, clubs, and sports. For Aisha, that means traveling, like her recent trip to Peru and a seeing Machu Picchhu., and exercise as a self-described pilates princess.

Finally,she advises doing all you can to keep up academically and achieve good grades.

You know what they say, sleep is temporary, but GPA is forever.’ At some points in your educational journey you may have to sacrifice sleep, or your social life to reach your educational aspirations. But if your goal is medicine, it is imperative that you thug it out even when school gets tough.”