Nina Abubakari created many professional options for herself, but the “absolute best decision” she’s made has been pursuit of a career in health care — a path that’s led her to be speaker at OUWB’s 2022 Commencement.

Abubakari relishes ‘extreme honor’ of being speaker at 2022 OUWB Commencement
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Nina Abubakari created many professional options for herself, but the “absolute best decision” she’s made has been pursuit of a career in health care — a path that’s led her to be speaker at OUWB’s 2022 Commencement.

Abubakari, MPH, MBA, JD, FACHE, is president and CEO of Advantage Health Centers, a federally qualified health center in Detroit.

In the role since 2017, she’s responsible for managing and growing the organization’s presence, participation, and patient-based throughout metro Detroit.

With Advantage Health Centers’ overall goal of improving the health of the region’s most vulnerable population, it makes sense that Abubakari speak at the commencement of OUWB, which has a mission “to develop compassionate physicians who are dedicated to improving the health of their communities, collaboration, and lifelong learning.”

Abubakari said being asked to speak at OUWB’s May 13 commencement is “a huge deal.”

“For me to be chosen to give a commencement speech for these (graduating medical students) — who are some of the best and brightest — it’s an extreme honor,” she said.

‘Where I’m supposed to be’

Abubakari grew up in Detroit.

Influenced by her mother, who was a doula, Abubakari decided at a young age she wanted to be an OB-GYN. As she got older, however, Abubakari realized she was stronger in some subjects than others — and one of the “others” was science. Coupled with what she calls “a fear of blood,” medical school was out.

Still, she wanted to work in health care. She pursued MBA and law degrees from Wayne State University, all the while planning use her education in a health care setting. Abubakari also earned a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from University of Minnesota.

“I’ve always had an affinity for health care and found my entry into it through education,” she said.

Abubakari said her education and experiences provided her with “an amazing body of knowledge,” that was all leading up to her becoming president and CEO of Advantage Health Centers.

“I’m where I need to be, where I’m supposed to be, where I’m most comfortable, and where I think I can do the most good,” she said.

One of the things that Abubakari said makes her most proud is serving a community that she’s from, and “responds to what we’re delivering.”

‘Extra, extra proud’

The history of Advantage Health Centers dates to 1982, when John Waller, Ph.D., director, Detroit Public Health, envisioned better community health.

Waller started Detroit Care for the Homeless and began providing care for the underserved in metro Detroit. The organization was incorporated and operated with its original name until 2004, when it began doing business as Advantage Health Centers (AHC).

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AHC has continued growing, and now has five locations in Detroit and Warren. It provides medical, dental, and behavioral health care “to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay,” according to its website. Though the majority of patients are from Detroit, it is not a requirement. AHC has had as many as 70,000 patient visits a year.

“We don’t see ourselves as the end-all, be-all in the community…we see ourselves as a component,” said Abubakari. “Health care is a piece of the puzzle in the health of a community.”

About 100 people work for AHC — another big point of pride for Abubakari. Most of the workers are full-time doctors and dentists.

“It makes me proud to have a staff that could literally go anywhere, but they continue to choose us,” said Abubakari.

Not only that, she said, but they go the extra mile for patients.

Abubakari recalled when AHC employees learned of one family of patients that had recently lost everything to a house fire.

“Our staff took it upon themselves to not only pay for her health care services, but lead a donation drive to get the family clothing and other items they needed,” said Abubakari. “That’s not a requirement of the job. That’s not something I asked them to do. But it speaks to the fact that our staff are from the same communities that our patients are from…our patients need to (be treated) with the dignity they deserve and my staff is able to deliver that, and that makes me extra, extra proud.”

‘Push forward’

Without giving away her entire commencement speech for OUWB, Abubakari talked about the general message she has for today’s graduating medical students.

In short, she said they should be recognized for sticking through medical school during a global pandemic and entering a field where the only certainty is uncertainty — and that means opportunity.

“For those graduating and entering this field, there are a lot of unknowns,” she said. “But there’s a lot that can be crafted into a better form of care. It’s an exciting time, even though it may seem somewhat stressful.”

Abubakari said she urges future physicians like OUWB’s Class of 2022 to use the opportunities they will have “to show your complete commitment to the field.”

“You have a chance to make some changes in the field of health and health care that were needed and have come to light because of the pandemic,” she said. “You’ve got opportunities that most people in their lifetime are not going to be able to say that they have… push forward and make those changes that need to be made and foster in a new form of health care.”

Commencement for OUWB’s Class of 2022 is set for 2 p.m., on Friday, May 13. The event will be held in the O’rena on the campus of Oakland University. For more details, click here.

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at [email protected].

To request an interview, visit the OUWB Communications & Marketing webpage.

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