Dr. Asha Shajahan is having her moment in the sun. She’s known for supporting her patients even when they’re not in the hospital. She recently helped one of her pregnant teenage patients complete her education.
Her devotion recently won her the Eleanor Josaitis Unsung Hero Award, which “recognizes an individual who may not have yet received the widespread recognition she or he deserves for long-standing efforts to further regional cooperation and understanding.” The award is part of the Shining Light Regional Cooperation Awards, named after longtime journalist Neal Shine of the Detroit Free Press, who passed away in 2007.
Shajahan never expected to win an award, but she’s more than happy to share her story.
A Helping Hand
Before becoming the graduate medical education director of health equity and health disparities for Beaumont Health, Dr. Shajahan was a medical resident in Michigan. She was treating a pregnant teenager when she learned she was planning on dropping out of high school.
Many expecting teens drop out of school to get a job or focus on their baby, but Shajahan decided to ask her why she wanted to leave her education behind.
The teen gave a surprising answer. She said she didn’t want to walk through a neighborhood that she felt was unsafe on her way to school.
“That was the last thing I thought — the safety of her route to school was a reason for her to drop out of school,” Shajahan said. She then told the teen: “You know what? We can take care of this.”
Shajahan then called the school and arranged to have the young woman transported to and from school. She then switched to remote learning towards the end of her pregnancy.
“In medicine, a lot of times we think these social circumstances are not our problem,” Shajahan said, such as access to safe housing, food, and transportation. “These are things that really matter and help.”
Three years later, the teenager came into Shajahan’s office with her two-year-old daughter to say thank you. She told her she graduated, got a job and that her daughter was in daycare.
“Her life had completely turned around from what it was,” Shajahan said. “That was the patient that inspired me to really look at disparities in a different way. I always make sure people’s social circumstances are solid. And if they’re not, how do we get it so that it is?”
A Fitting Tribute
As this year’s winner of the Eleanor Josaitis Unsung Hero Award, Shajahan is finally getting her due.
James Lynch, president of Beaumont Health’s Grosse Pointe and Troy campuses, commented, “Asha is a humanitarian and a kind, caring physician. She’s worked tirelessly for the community.”
Shajahan and Dr. Nick Gilpin have also hosted a podcast called HouseCall for years. (Honestly, where does she find the time?)
Gilpin called his colleague and friend a “rock star” for tackling inequalities in the community outside of work. The COVID-19 pandemic compelled her to do more to support those who often have nowhere else to turn.
Lynch added that she works “to make sure those inside the community receive the greatest care” and extends her compassion to the community. She has worked volunteer clinics, and “on the street, they call her Dr. Asha, and she’s literally doing street medicine…she gives of herself so much.”
Suzy Berschback, healthy communities manager at the Grosse Pointe and Troy hospitals, spoke about how Shajahan explored ways of healing the body. The two of them started several music, art, and healing initiatives in the community, including an Arts for the Spirit program.
“She’s someone who thinks outside the box about a person’s body, mind and spirit,” Berschback said. “I really feel her passion is listening to patients. Understanding their story and connecting how to put them on a path to better health in an uplifting manner.”
Shajahan says her focus is finding how people can empower others to live happier and healthier lives before they get sick.” She says, “I really took that on as a moral responsibility to try to really make a difference in the lives of my patients and families, and that ultimately translates to the community as well.”
As the pandemic wears on, she wants to solidify the trust between a doctor and their patient. “You have the power of trust from your patients,” Shajahan said. “You have a moral obligation to use that trust to make the patient healthier.”