February 1, 2022

N4 – National Newcomer Navigation Network Blog

Featured Member: Dr. Josephine B. Etowa

Dr. Josephine B. Etowa is a professor and Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) Chair in Black Women’s HIV Care and Prevention at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Nursing, an N4 member, and a former newcomer to Canada herself. Dr. Etowa began her career as a registered midwife and registered nurse in Nigeria, immigrating to Canada nearly 30 years ago.

While working as a nurse, Dr. Etowa saw firsthand the barriers that newcomers to Canada faced when accessing the healthcare system, as well as navigating community resources more broadly. This experience shaped Dr. Etowa’s decision to return to school, where she pursued a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Nursing from Dalhousie University, followed by a PhD in Nursing from the University of Calgary. Dr. Etowa also completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Toronto and University of Ottawa, where her research focused on diversity in nursing in Canada.

Dr. Etowa attended a local community presentation as a master’s student, where somebody said, “we just need people to understand our issues, you don’t need to be Black to understand the needs of people who are marginalized.” Dr. Etowa told her master’s thesis supervisor about this experience, recalling, “Over the term I’d been talking with her about, going to American literature to find materials to write my papers about Black Canadians, and she [the thesis supervisor] said, “you know, you can be part of the solution.” And that’s what motivated me to say, “you know, I can be part of the solution.”” This catalyzing experience led to Dr. Etowa’s final master’s thesis, The Childbirth Experiences of African Nova Scotian Women.

Dr. Etowa has continued to build upon the work of her thesis throughout her academic career, and community-based participatory research and meaningful community engagement have been integral parts of this work. In 2000, Dr. Etowa was a founding member of The Health Association of African Canadians (HAAC), which was formed to advance the health of African Nova Scotians. Dr. Etowa was also one of the founding members of The Canadians of African Descent Health Organization (CADHO), founded in January 2020 to advance African, Caribbean, and Black (ACB) healthcare and health outcomes. Key parts of both CADHO and HAAC’s work are knowledge mobilization and capacity building, so that people may understand research, and use it as a tool to advocate for change.

Marginalized communities, including racialized and newcomer communities, have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Dr. Etowa sees the increased societal awareness of these inequities and their connection to the social determinants of health as a “silver lining” of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are able to now have a shared language to discuss what we’ve always talked about. That there is structural and systemic racism. That there is anti-Black racism. And so COVID has helped us to have a shared language with mainstream researchers, decision-makers and providers,” Dr. Etowa reflects.

Dr. Etowa’s research currently focuses on inequities in health and health care, diversity in nursing, and women’s health. In addition to her research, teaching, and community building work, Dr. Etowa is an active speaker and presenter, having given over 300 presentations. N4 is pleased to host Dr. Etowa as a panelist at the upcoming N4 conference (March 1-3), where she’ll co-deliver the session Inequities in Health and Health Care – Envisioning Solutions to COVID-19’s Impact in ACB Communities.

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