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Fathima Wakeel

Associate Professor, Health Professions

by John Smith - Nov. 7, 2019

Fathima Wakeel

There is sufficient rigor and requirement in the instructional schedule of Associate Professor Fathima Wakeel, as she leads her Public Health classes in Ferris State University’s College of Health Professions. A well-respected researcher, Wakeel has more on her plate these days, as she contributes to a multi-operational effort to combat opioid drug overuse, abuse and misuse in West Central Michigan. Ferris is collaborating with experts from Spectrum Health-Big Rapids Hospital, Community Mental Health for Central Michigan and the District 10 Health Department in this Opioid Taskforce project, which is now in its third year. Wakeel said all the partners involved understand that theirs is a sizable and important undertaking.

“The university is well positioned to take a leadership role in this taskforce, due to its prominence in the community and our existing relationships with the local stakeholders in health care,” Wakeel said. “The participants have come together for many meetings in this very collaborative project. Each of the entities involved has made a considerable effort to serve and support our governance board and project team, so that we appropriately address and respond to this issue.”

Wakeel said the societal and human costs that opioid misuse and abuse present cut across all spectra in this region, and it would be naïve to think that the university’s students and employees are outside the sphere of those impacted by the epidemic.

“There is a culture of acceptance around opioid use which must be addressed,” Wakeel said. “Our task force wants to know what student perceptions are, with respect to misuse and abuse, since they are a significant component of the Big Rapids and Mecosta County community.”

Nearly two years into this effort, the taskforce learned that the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services had awarded $200,000 to support their studies. Wakeel said the consortium will work to assess existing resources, study best practices and plan a pilot response program for the region. This, she believes should present valuable lessons for Ferris’ students in Public Health and other disciplines.

“There is definitely a need to apply what we have learned in this study to our own lectures,” Wakeel. “This is an extension of the project planning and needs assessment exercises that I present to my students. They are active stakeholders, as we will be reaching out to them for information and also pursue their participation, when that becomes appropriate.”

Wakeel said the HRSA grant success was an important first step in the process of developing appropriate community response plans, but the consortium will need to continue their pursuit of grants to assist planning, and project implementation funding.

“I did not necessarily see this kind of community engagement research coming my way,” Wakeel said. “I have been typically involved in academic studies, with a focus on racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in maternal and child health, and women’s mental health. This has certainly been a useful professional exercise, as it will provide tangible examples for my instruction, and bring value and benefit to our community.”

Some of the likely outcomes from the project would include expanded access to mental health services for those with opioid use issues, coordinating with primary caregivers in prevention efforts and improving upon opportunities to dispose of unused opioids.

Wakeel’s contributions to the Opioid Taskforce have continued a pattern of service and community involvement, as she also participates in the Northwest Michigan Chronic Disease Prevention Coalition and another community collaboration, Live Well Mecosta County. She is a frequent co-author of scholarly publications and regularly speaks to groups visiting campus, along with students in the College of Health Professions, the university’s Honors Program and registered student organizations.

“I feel it is imperative for Public Health faculty to be involved in these kinds of groups and activities,” Wakeel said. “I believe that being an active participant makes me a better professor and allows me to offer what I have learned to benefit the community.”

Wakeel joined the Ferris faculty in August 2014 and has made these considerable offers of her time and talent while she and her husband have raised their five-year-old son and a daughter, soon to be 10.

“It is challenging to pursue a proper work-life balance, so I very much enjoy being with my children, and participating in their school events,” Wakeel said. “I try to share what I do with my older child, to show her that there is more to grading papers in my work, and that such efforts can be meaningful and worthwhile. I hope that they might look forward to their futures, and that they would strive to make an impact, when they consider the path for their own lives.”

John Smith is the communications specialist in the News Services and Social Media department of University Advancement and Marketing.

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