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ETMU Award 2022 to Dr. Ibrahim Ahmed and Dr. Hibo Abdulkarim (Lääkärit Hibo ja Ibrahim)

During the ETMU Days 2022, the ETMU Board awarded Dr. Ibrahim Ahmed and Dr. Hibo Abdulkarim with the ETMU Award 2022. 

While presenting the award, ETMU chair, Johanna-Ennser-Kananen shared with conference participants why the doctors were receiving ETMU’s recognition, and why and how everyone in the room could join them in their service.

“How do you take care of your skin, whatever your complexion may be? Why do the same drugs tend to cause more side effects women than for men? How do you identify melanoma, and how do you spot it on dark skin? Why are non-white children commonly underdiagnosed with ADHD? How can your doctor support your fasting during Ramadan?

These may not be the typical questions you hear at an ETMU conference, or at a conference in Finland, or at any conference for that matter — and yet these questions matter greatly. They are questions of physical, mental, emotional, and social health that take into account the perspective of Black and Brown people, more generally of POC, and the life realities of communities and individuals that often fall through the cracks in health care. These and many, many similar questions have found answers – answers that are based on research, answers that are comprehensible to people who haven’t studied medicine, answers that are prepared in an engaging way, answer that are made accessible in Finnish and English, and answers that are freely available on Instagram. Today, we honor the two people who give us these answers, who have enriched our society with such an important service, who have made research-based information publicly available, who have greatly improved our wellbeing and health through this, and break with the normativity of whiteness in health care and medicine by specifically including and focusing on information about and for people of color. Today we honor Dr. Ibrahim Ahmed and Dr. Hibo Abdulkarim, better known as Lääkärit Hibo ja Ibrahim.

The doctors moved to Finland from Somalia at a young age. Dr Ibrahim graduated from the University of East London in 2012 with honors in biochemistry degree and also studied in Oradea (Romania). Dr Hibo studied in Sheffield (UK), is an anti-racism expert; teaches diversity and inclusion through medical lense and was one of the lecturers at the first antiracism course for healthcare students (medicine, psychology and speech therapy students) at Helsinki University. She still teaches that and other courses (2-3 lectures a year). Both practice medicine in Finland with the goal of making Finnish health care equitable and accessible for all.  

Doctors Hibo and Ibrahim were patients before they were doctors. They know what it means not to be heard or not to be believed by health care professionals – what they experienced first hand is also well documented in research: that POC, women, children, and people with migrant background are not believed, their pain is downplayed and dismissed. The doctors also know what it means not to be seen as individual, but as involuntary representative of a group – migrants and BIPOC, for instance, are commonly lumped together, but, as they tell us in an article in the Nuori Lääkäri magazine, also drug users, people with disabilities, or LGBTQIA+ people and many more. The medicine against this kind of pain? The doctors prescribe empathy, breaking of biases and prejudice, and genuine listening. 

The doctors were also also students before they were doctors, in institutions that were not always welcoming and told them to consider “more realistic” lines of work. Thankfully for us, they didn’t listen and stuck with their plan and started practicing medicine in Finland, which, like many places and spaces is a predominantly white field, populated by white medical professionals who are trained to serve white patients. As the doctors said in a 2021 article on and Dr. Hibo mentioned in a recent Insta post “few doctors have had the chance to study skin illnesses on dark skin”(Insta), so that “nowadays many doctors don’t even know what dark skin looks like when it gets red or it bruises”. The medicine against that we could and should all be taking? Learning, educating ourselves, following the lääkärit on Instagram, and continuing to push for structural change. 

I think here at ETMU, as academics, we have much to learn from Doctors Hibo and Ibrahim. First, Dr Ibrahim’s advice to “meet each patient as individual, as person” is something we should take to heart also researchers: Let’s engage with the people in our communities that are part of or affected by our work, let’s meet them as humans first, not as participants or audience. Second, let’s pay attention to the knowledge gap Dr. Hibo is pointing to: Let’s genuinely listen to those whose voices our fields have tended to ignore, and let’s put our time and energy into educating ourselves and those around us, and into removing the structural barriers and our own biases that threaten their health and wellbeing. These are the doctors’ orders! 

Doctors Hibo and Ibrahim, thank you for your important work, thank you for being a role model to us all. In the name of the ETMU board, and I think all people here, congratulations on receiving the ETMU AWard 2022.”

From the ETMU board, and ETMU conference participants 2022 – Congratulations once more!