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It might seem odd for a health-care practitioner to talk about things like income, access to food and the built environment in a medical sense. But in fact, there’s plenty of research to show that these social determinants of health can have a profound impact on the well-being of individuals, as well as the communities in which they live.

For Sarah Hanafi, a third-year med school student at the University of Alberta, these factors have been on her mind since before she even entered the field. “For whatever reason, [doctors] are given more of a voice, and more of a platform,” Sarah says. And she intends to use hers to advocate for health equity, in all its forms.

Sarah recently sat on the board of directors for Canadian Doctors for Medicare, where she lobbied for improved access and quality within the health-care system, and is also involved with the U of A Medical Students’ Association and the Islamic Family and Social Services Association. Civic engagement, however, holds a special spot in her heart. That’s because municipal policies — even seemingly unrelated ones — can have a direct impact on the health of citizenry. “Even being able to get from one neighbourhood to another can affect a person’s health,” she says. “If they don’t have good public transport, they can’t get to their job. And that affects their ability to access medication, or get to a doctor’s appointment.”

When not wearing her stethoscope, Sarah has a different way of engaging her community: as an accordionist. She first picked up the instrument while studying at McGill, and finds it a more natural fit for group entertaining than piano, which she was trained on. Sarah was known to take her accordion into the streets of Montreal. She’s currently steeling herself for her Edmonton debut.

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