Dartmouth General Hospital hiring fair aims to attract more African Nova Scotians to healthcare careers

When Dr. Natalie Cheng took on the role of medical site lead at Dartmouth General Hospital (DGH) she saw an opportunity to put her interest in health equity into practice and improve health outcomes for the community.

“Our hospital serves several big African Nova Scotian communities. Unfortunately, many African Nova Scotians have not historically had good experiences in the health care system.  My goal is to change that story going forward” Cheng said. “We recognize that there is a lack of trust. African Nova Scotians often feel much safer when they are talking to someone that looks like them and understands their history and concerns.”

Cheng and her DGH co-lead, Lori Sanderson, created a committee for African Nova Scotian Health Promotion, which meets regularly and has developed several initiatives to improve diversity and community outreach at DGH. Committee members represent the NS Brotherhood and Sisterhood, the Health Association of African Canadians, representatives of African descent from various disciplines, primary care and most recently a patient representative.

One of the many initiatives to come from the committee’s work is a hiring fair for African Nova Scotians. It takes place in person on February 23 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, and also virtually on March 7 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Lana MacLean, a social worker at DGH, is keen to share the wide range of careers in health care with the African Nova Scotian community, which has not traditionally been exposed to opportunities due to systemic racism.  

“This job fair is quite aligned with Afrocentric principles and values around mentorship, around exposure, around concepts within the African diaspora of what we call Kujichagulia, or self-determination,” MacLean said. “But you can’t be self-determined unless you know what your options are, so the job fair is one aspect of an Afrocentric approach to giving exposure and to giving options to young people of African descent.”

It's that exposure that Cheng hopes will get people thinking about different options at DGH, even if they aren’t immediately qualified.

“Sometimes just working in the hospital in a training or entry-level position can give you a sense of what it's like to work in health care as you are building your skills or working part time while you're pursuing your education.  Then, when you're done your training and are looking at job opportunities, you have a foot in the door, we already know you and are more likely to hire you,” Cheng said.

Cheng and MacLean agree that by making the hospital more diverse, it will provide the people it serves with better health care experiences resulting in better health care outcomes.

“The other thing we are hoping to achieve is knowledge and capacity building within communities.  When someone has a career in health care, they will bring that knowledge back to their community, and this will improve the health within that community,” Cheng said. “I want to improve health equity by building capacity and increasing diversity within our health system to better reflect the people that we service. I want to change the culture and change the story.”

MacLean commends DGH leaders for their commitment to change.

“This is organizational change from within which was born out of place of cultural humility, and it didn't require direction from Equity Diversity and Inclusion committees within Nova Scotia Health, it didn't require direction from the CEO -- it was one or two people being mindful and intentional and working with what they have.”