Sukhdev (Sukhi) Grewal completed both Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science in Nursing degrees at the University of British Columbia. As a result of Sukhi’s innovation, motivation and drive, as well as her education, she blazed a visionary path to greater cultural advocacy and equity-based services in the province of British Columbia. Sukhi’s leadership extended beyond her local community to create new healthcare pathways globally to India and East Pakistan, to further impact the international healthcare community for the greater good.
Sukhi’s nursing education roots originated in the United Kingdom where she received her Nursing and Midwifery SRN (State Registered Nurse) Diploma with certification in maternal nursing and postpartum/neonatal care SCM (state-certified Midwife). While initially focusing in the early days on women’s health, her “boots on the ground” observations led her soon to be proactive to the growing gaps she was experiencing in culturally safe care, predominantly within the underserved South Asian immigrant community. As a result, Sukhi concentrated on addressing the influence of family members on immigrant South Asian women’s health for her graduate school dissertation. Through her research, Sukhi identified that building a strong network of interconnected support for South Asian women would ultimately improve the greater health and wellbeing of South Asian families as a whole. This body of work originated in 1990 when Sukhi started out working as a home care nurse where she firsthand would notice a growing number of South Asian women diagnosed with cervical cancer at more advanced stages. Concerned with this disparity while interfacing and caring for this population, Sukhi was able to pinpoint the health equity and health literacy needs and opportunities within the then absent health prevention screening. At the time, most physicians were male, English-speaking, and the population group of vulnerable Punjabi or Hindi speaking women felt unsafe and access to pelvic examinations embodied intimidating barriers. Assessing this, Sukhi pioneered the South Asian Pap Test project supported by medical health officer Dr. Lois Yelland, friends and relatives in Greater Vancouver. What started as a grassroots public health community assessment further transformed into a South Asian women’s health service line that extended into the early 2000’s impacting countless women and families with life-changing health outcomes with ripples of positive impact initiating a cultural safety movement throughout the entire province.
Where there were no prior cultural safety pathways, Sukhi implemented platforms for developing cross-cultural community awareness. Through her dedication, she has strengthened ethnic and racial partnerships building a support system for immigrants to build resiliency. Sukhi’s needs assessment of the cultural care deficits spurred her to start and serve within numerous projects and grants advocating for South Asian health care. Some of these focus groups ranged from specialties in cardiology to breast cancer that illuminated gender and ethnicity gaps and further advocated for equitable care. Sukhi’s courageous spirit also led her into more delicate and challenging conversations and social action around themes of domestic and partner violence in the South Asian community, furthering propelling social action, prevention and post-violence healing and recovery. These pressing needs from the 1980’s up until now exposed the stressors, racial injustices and barriers that the South Asian community were experiencing integrating into new Canadian culture. This inspired Sukhi to rise up and proactively give voice to these needs, to be an empowering change agent for vulnerable and suffering silent women and families. As a result, Sukhi led the efforts of the grassroots development of The South Asian Family Association (SAFA), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting awareness, advocacy and education for South Asian culture. The goals were to promote positive images of the South Asian community; enhance cross-cultural understanding, and empower families to maintain their heritage while embracing Canadian culture. This was powerfully accomplished through many streams of capacity-building, strengthening cultural identity, and by increasing awareness through Indian Festivals (India Live Festival and City-wide Diwali celebration), annual scholarships for high school students, International Women’s Day, a Mothers & Daughters fundraising dinner, youth summer camps, and South Asian health fairs. Sukhi was the president of SAFA for 15 years. During this time of leadership, the organization achieved notoriety, becoming one of the most well-respected/recognized cultural organizations in the province of British Columbia. Sukhi’s tireless efforts and devotion to the needs of her community paved the way to a healthier and stronger community.
Sukhi’s tenure in leadership has included ongoing participation in multiple committees and boards, author and co-author of numerous evidence-based research articles, and a public health leader on community health projects spanning decades. Her most influential role has been one of educator at numerous colleges and universities as tenured faculty where she has inspired and invested her extensive knowledge, skills and wisdom investing into countless nursing students, launching them into successful nursing careers and leadership.
Sukhi’s involvement has stretched nationally ranging from her involvement in the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation to international organizations, the Global Health Nurses’ Interest Group. Sukhi also led the efforts of international health outreach by bringing nursing students to rural schools and villages to deliver healthcare and education.
As a result of the professional and volunteer service leadership hours that Sukhi has provided to Greater Vancouver, provincially, nationally and internationally, she has been graced with numerous awards and acknowledgements. Among these is Vancouver’s Cultural Harmony Award from the City of Vancouver for conducting many cultural events and workshops with them. She was also recognized with the Darpan’s Extraordinary Achievement Award for Community Service, the City of Vancouver’s award for Honouring Women In The Year of Reconciliation, the Times of Canada Excellence Award, the College of Registered Nurses of BC’s Award of Excellence In Advocacy, as well as “RNABC Award of Excellence in Nursing Practice,” to name several among many other awards and recognition for Sukhi’s tireless contributions.
Sukhi’s vigorous and dynamic contributions have laid the very groundwork to where we are today in having culturally-safe conversations in our current community, receiving equitable and vital women’s healthcare – and overall, greater world awareness. Sukhi’s vision for unbiased and just partnerships, collaboration, and advocating for immigrants has bolstered, strengthened, and improved healthcare systems. Sukhi’s strengths-based attributes of sheer determination and perseverance have inspired deeper culturally-safe conversations around racial and ethnic injustices, resulting in a positive impact in the lives of countless women and families. Sukhi’s resilient courage and visionary leadership demonstrate how one nurse collaborating and building bridges with others with evidence-based practices can change the world, and forging the culturally-safe foundation and framework which we have today.
Written by Ranjit Dhari