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Dr. Tim El-Tahan and his community are fostering understanding and inclusivity for healthcare workers of the Islamic faith in Pictou County

Photo of a person standing in a hospital wearing brown pants and a blue collared short-sleeve shirt.

In Pictou County, a dedicated effort is underway to enhance understanding, inclusion and support for the Muslim community. Recognizing the significant number of doctors in Pictou County who follow the Muslim faith, the community organized Islam 101, a gathering to share valuable insights into Islam beliefs and practices. The goal extends beyond ensuring respect and understanding of religious and spiritual needs, aiming to establish a welcoming environment where recruited physicians of the Islamic faith choose to establish their practice and put down roots in the community.

Community leader Deanna Mohamed hosted the inaugural Islam 101 event in 2019 but plans for subsequent events were disrupted by the onset of COVID-19. When funding became available through the Office of Health Professional Recruitment’s (OHPR) Community Fund, the community seized the chance to resume and expand their efforts.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tahmir (Tim) El-Tahan played a pivotal role in hosting the most recent Islam 101 presentation at the local mosque. The focus was on the fundamental principles of the Muslim faith, covering aspects such as prayer, fasting during Ramadan and creating an inclusive space within healthcare settings. The event drew more than 30 attendees, including community council members, town councilors and representatives from various organizations. The gathering began with a meal featuring Middle Eastern cuisines, followed by a presentation and an engaging Q&A session.

In collaboration with Dr. El-Tahan, Healthy Pictou County, a community-driven initiative led by healthcare professionals, organized the session. Nicole LeBlanc, the Project Navigator for Healthy Pictou County, plays a crucial role in making these community-driven endeavors possible. By supporting recruitment and retention committees, she actively addresses issues of equity, diversity and inclusion, contributing to the creation of an inclusive environment within Nova Scotia Health.

"I think sometimes it's the fear of admitting not knowing about something that holds people back,” explained LeBlanc. “Taking that brave step to understand it better is essential. We're excited to offer a second session for this cause, extending from the successful foundational session for our recruitment group to reach a broader community audience."

Dr. El-Tahan, raised in Newfoundland to parents who immigrated from Egypt, continued the legacy of his father by playing a key role in establishing the first mosque in Pictou County in 2019. The conversion of the former Christ the King Catholic Church in Trenton into a refreshed prayer space marked a significant milestone. The mosque now serves as a vibrant place of worship, attracting a growing number of individuals who come to pray.

“We started building this community and reaching out to the medical community for funding and donations. Having a mosque is crucial for recruiting doctors to the county, providing a place for worship,” explained Dr. El-Tahan.

After completing education and medical training in Newfoundland, Dr. El-Tahan pursued a fellowship in orthopedic sports medicine at the Cincinnati Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Ohio. Following this, he and his wife relocated to New Zealand for a second fellowship. In 2010, New Zealand experienced a massive earthquake, and Dr. El-Tahan actively contributed to trauma care in earthquake-stricken Christchurch. Despite contemplating a permanent stay in New Zealand, the desire to be closer to family led them back to Canada.

Although Dr. El-Tahan and his wife explored the possibility of moving elsewhere in Canada or beyond, and numerous practice opportunities became available, they developed a deep love for the New Glasgow area and ultimately decided to make it their home. Since 2012, he has been practicing in Pictou County, primarily working out of the Aberdeen Hospital and Colchester / East Hants Health Centre.

The community's response to the introduction of the mosque, as well as the Islam 101 events, has been overwhelmingly positive, with a genuine interest in learning more, dispelling myths and creating a more inclusive environment. A Ramadan celebration was held at the Aberdeen Hospital for the first time this past Ramadan.

Growing up attending a Catholic school, Dr. El-Tahan explained that Muslim and Christian faiths have many similarities. He believes that the things that bring people together are much stronger than the things that set them apart, and we have more in common than what makes us different.

The Islam 101 initiative in Pictou County stands as a testament to the power of community-driven efforts in promoting understanding, breaking down barriers and embracing diversity. With plans to host future sessions, the hope is that these initiatives will create a more welcoming environment for existing and new healthcare providers who practice Islam.

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