BY JAMIU BUSARI (@JOBUSAR)
Niloufar Ashtiani (@comasterondw)
General pediatrician (previously at the OLVG Amsterdam & Dijklander Hospital Hoorn
Co-Founder Diversity Committee Emma Children’s Hospital Amsterdam (AUMC)
Founder of CoMaster
Niloufar Ashtiani MD, is a general pediatrician with a special interest in Gastro-Enterology, Functional Somatic Disorders and Childhood Obesity. She completed her residency training at the Amsterdam University Medical Center in 2017. Niloufar is the Chair of the Board of EKANN, an organization that aims to improve the health of refugee children in the Netherlands. She is also the Co-Founder of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee of the Emma Children’s Hospital in Amsterdam (2020), as well as the Dutch Association of Pediatrics (2023) and a founding member of a Dutch collective initiative for inclusion in medicine (CODING).
Working to improve communication within medical education
Part of Niloufar’s work focuses on improving the health outcomes of marginalized patients as well as advocating for increased access to medical training for minority students. She claims that both during her training and after graduation, she has always been fascinated by education and communication. Dr Ashtiani believes that these are aspects of the medical curriculum that need to be improved. In 2021, she founded CoMaster, an organization that aims to provide open-source inclusive medical education through innovative digital technology.
In 2023, Niloufar and her team were awarded an educational grant by the Dutch Research Council to further develop an inclusive communication course for medical professionals. Her aspiration is to further develop and disseminate the course to all professionals in healthcare. Dr Ashtiani believes in the benefits of training healthcare professionals, so that they are aware of their own unconscious bias and its possible consequences. Furthermore, she says that “it is important to increase cultural sensitivity and equip healthcare professionals with the skills to communicate with all patients, regardless of their (ethnic) background, gender, sexual orientation or ability.”
Taking time away to view the system with fresh eyes
Until recently, Niloufar combined her clinical and non-clinical tasks by taking regular sabbaticals of 4-6 months per year, so that she could create space and time to invest and develop new start-up initiatives. She shares that taking time off and being away from the hospital allowed her to perform a critical analysis of how the healthcare system is designed and how some groups, such as children from impoverished backgrounds, are systematically disadvantaged. This is important, as it directly effects treatment outcomes.
The same applies to the educational system that is responsible for shaping future healthcare workers, but unfortunately excludes many talented students from minority backgrounds. “There is gap in knowledge within healthcare workers about DEI sensitive work and how it relates to their profession and the ways in which it effects (the health outcomes of) the communities we are serving” she says.
Innovative solutions to promote social justice
Niloufar currently splits her time equally between clinical & activist work related to patient healthcare, educational activities (such as creating the curriculum for the research consortium) and setting up a multicentered research consortium in collaboration with different institutions. Her remaining 25 per cent is spent running an art & design studio in Amsterdam together with her spouse. Most administrative tasks have been automated or outsourced.
While her portfolio might seem very diverse, she divulges that each element within it is linked to one another, which gives her great satisfaction in her work.
Dr Ashtiani says her work is about creating human connections and dialogue between different people, restoring social justice by stepping outside of the framework of institutions and promoting creative and innovative solutions to our modern time problems. She strives to build bridges between education, healthcare, technical innovation and the art & design world, adding that this is only possible thanks to her amazing co-workers and co-founders who share the same vision as her.
Prioritizing time with family
When asked if she encountered any challenges within the diverse nature of her work, Niloufar replied, “The biggest challenge for me is preserving my early mornings for creative work, while taking care of my family. I love that the diversity of my work allows me the freedom to manage huge projects and also spend sufficient time with my children as they grow up. I particularly enjoy the little things the most. For example, I love to make breakfast and prepare my kids’ lunch in the morning. However, it is during the early mornings that I get some of my best work done and I do miss that alone time for deep reflection sometimes.”
“For now,” she adds, “I catch up on work during the weekends, while my family sleeps in. I try to remember that this precious time goes by so fast: I should try to stay in the moment and appreciate it. As we grow older, we spend increasingly more time alone, so I choose to prioritize the mornings with my family now above my creative work.”
Three tips for junior CEs: Stay on your own path, find your tribe and give credit where it’s due
- Everyone’s path is different, make sure you stay on yours. As a woman from a mixed ethnic background, I recognize that we have to fit it and put aside our own authentic self, in order to complete certain areas of our career. But as soon as you can, circle back to you own values and beliefs. Success has no merit if it’s not aligned with who you truly are. It’s the only way to create a significant and sustainable impact without depleting yourself.
- Find your tribe. They are the people that celebrate your success and share your joy. Keep away from negative people, who believe that what you wish to achieve is not possible. Find your mentors and as soon as you can, become a mentor to younger aspiring students yourself. They are the greatest source of inspiration and help shape the future of leadership.
- Always focus on the work and give credit where it’s due. It’s not about personal gain or achievements, it’s about serving the work. In order to create a sustainable chain of changemakers however, you need to make sure to connect with and acknowledge others as much as possible. The power to change systems lies in our collective work and showing solidarity.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. For more details on our site disclaimers, please see our ‘About’ page