Q&A with Dr. Ali:
What are you most proud of about your role as Brown Emergency Medicine’s first-ever Chief Resident of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?
What I’m most proud of is something that’s hard to measure. For one, people at Brown are talking more than ever now about DEI issues. For example, those who are a part of Brown Emergency Medicine are talking more about race and medicine, health care disparities and social determinants of health. That’s an outcome that I’m proud to have helped achieve through my work giving different lectures, sending monthly emails and coordinating a variety of activities focused on DEI and health care. In the Emergency Medicine Department, where we are on the frontlines, I can see my fellow physicians thinking about DEI more than in the past when they are taking care of patients. That’s really important. We need to always think about not just the clinical part of our work, but also how our patients’ lives outside of the hospital affect their health care.
If physicians and other health care professionals are not aware of their implicit racism and biases, we may inadvertently overlook things and treat patients with some inequity. That’s when life and death become a priority, especially in the emergency department where I work. Seconds can mean life and death; missed diagnoses can mean life and death. When you’re not thinking about a patient as a whole – especially with what disparities contributed to their issue, it can lead to very poor health outcomes.
What sparked your interest in diversity equity and inclusion and its relationship to health and health care?
As someone who grew up in a diverse household with parents from two very different cultures – my mom is from Honduras and my Dad is from Pakistan – diversity has always been on my mind. I also learned early on in medicine that diversity can mean the difference between life and death for some of our patients and that there are considerable disparities in health care. This knowledge made me realize I want to do more work in that realm.
Can you provide an example of how looking at your patients through a DEI lens has helped produce a successful outcome?
I have become hyperaware of the disparities our patients might face which allows me to come at situations from a different angle. For example, one time a patient was very sick and he needed a procedure but wouldn’t stay for it. Nobody could convince him to stay and people were getting angry with him. At the same time, he was getting agitated. I asked him why he didn’t want to stay and he said he was worried about missing work and getting fired, so I offered to call his boss. This convinced him to get the procedure done and get admitted to the hospital. Our patients usually make decisions that they think are best for their overall life and we are just making decisions about their health care so we often carry a limited mindset.
What is the greatest challenge in your role and what do you do to overcome it?
There are a lot of systemic problems that I have little control over as one person. I have to accept that there is only so much I can do in my realm of the world and even in my own city. There are significant barriers in place that affect our patients, and it’s going to take a lot of advocacy and government work to tear down those barriers. So it can be a bit frustrating, especially in the health care system where change doesn’t happen overnight. Because of this, you kind of reach a limit in what you can do for your patient. That’s one of the reasons I created the role of Chief Resident of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Brown Emergency Medicine. I’m so happy I did. It’s been kind of cool to develop the role with the help of a few terrific mentors and try to figure out what’s best for our community.
What is your greatest aspiration or key goal?
My life goal is to set an example for DEI best practices. There’s definitely other people and programs out there that I really look up to for how they’re changing their community. I hope that one day, someone is looking towards the work that I’m doing and the work of the program I’m a part of, to draw inspiration and best practices from.
At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a physician?
Growing up, I had always enjoyed learning and had always had a desire to help people so I thought this was a way to combine those things. I did question whether I wanted to go into medicine for a while – I went back and forth in college – but then towards the end, I decided to take a year off to see if this was definitely something I wanted to do. During this time, I was a scribe in an emergency department in Fort Worth, Texas, and that’s when I really fell in love with not just medicine, but emergency medicine. I wanted to be those doctors that I scribed for. So that solidified it. From there I went to medical school and, if I needed any further reason to focus on emergency medicine, I learned that I likedevery specialty in medicine but didn’t love any one of them. Emergency medicine allows you to help your patients with a broad knowledge base which I love.
Do you have a favorite quote or mantra?
Not a quote or a mantra but a process that’s very important to me. Every time I go into a shift, I say a little prayer, and I ask God to help me to help these people, to help me to learn a lot, and to help me to show them I’m a good doctor. It really helps me when I’m on a shift to remember these three things I’m trying to do every day.
Outside of your demanding job, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I enjoy sharing favorite past times with my wife. We like to go on walks with our dog, watch movies, and we are always saving money for our next trip – we love to travel. We also really love food. We enjoy cooking meals together as well as eating out.