Nawal Nour stands in front of a projector screen with her presentation title, "My Journey from the Nile to the Charles River."

Dr. Nawal Nour (CFF ‘99) delivered the Howard, Dorsey, Still Lecture at Harvard Medical School on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. Dr. Nour’s talk traced her journey from her childhood on the banks of the Nile River in Khartoum, Sudan, to Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she is Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Founding Director of the African Women’s Health Center.

Dr. Nour emphasized for her audience (especially the students and trainees) that, like a river, one’s life course can be meandering and uneven, but can nonetheless lead you somewhere meaningful and rewarding. She credited the Commonwealth Fund/Harvard Fellowship in Minority Health Policy (later renamed the Commonwealth Fund Fellowship in Minority Health Policy at Harvard University) with giving her a crucial one-year opportunity, early in her career, to stop and think thorough how “to serve the communities that I care about.” For Dr. Nour, this meant serving “the African migrants and refugees who were coming to the US and had undergone FGM/C (Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting) and who were not seeing providers with the necessary cultural/linguistic competencies or understanding of the traditions of FGM/C.” Dr. Nour was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2003 for this work.

She described her trajectory from her undergraduate days studying international relations and development studies, to practicing medicine while advocating for African women and girls, to serving as the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Brigham and Women’s Hospital—and now, as Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Returning her discussion of northeastern Africa’s waterways, Dr. Nour offered as a metaphor the grounding of the Ever Given, a massive containership that became stuck in the Suez Canal in 2021. With the only alternative route being a 15,000-mile detour around Africa, it took patience and ingenuity to get the boat unstuck. “Whenever I’m at the lowest of my low,” she said, “I think … No, I’m not going around Africa.

Dr. Nour closed her speech by encouraging listeners to find mentors and sponsors, to advocate for themselves and others, and to seize opportunities that may be daunting at first, but that will provide a new platform for the work they care about.

By Thomas Dichter

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