Advancing the Science

Mayo Clinic Medical Science Blog – an eclectic collection of research- and research education-related stories: feature stories, mini news bites, learning opportunities, profiles and more from Mayo Clinic.

November 5, 2015

Partnering with the Somali Community Through Research

By Elizabeth Zimmermann

Mayo Clinic’s health equity research program, the Arizona branch of the Office of Health Disparities Research (OHDR), is dedicated to support meaningful research programs to identify, develop, and deploy strategies to eliminate health disparities. We also work to ensure that our research subjects (and patients) reflect the diverse communities that form the mosaic of our nation.

We do this in collaboration with many community partners. One of our most esteemed partnerships is with the Somali American United Council of Arizona (SAUC) led by Dr.  Mohamed Ali Abukar. The process of creating relationships with them and understanding the Somali community has been rich and rewarding


Dr. Mohamed Ali Abukar, President of SAUC and co-investigator of the STORI project

Engaging the community involved first understanding who was serving the community. This entailed meetings with leaders of the Somali community, the Refugee Health Program and faith leaders. Every group we met with recommended Dr. Abukar and SAUC as the gateway to the community. As we sought true community engagement, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as “the process of working collaboratively with and through groups of people affiliated by geographic proximity, special interest, or similar situations to address issues affecting the wellbeing of those people”, we learned more about their community, their work, and opportunities to partner. The result is a solid partnership built on trust and collaboration between Mayo Clinic and the Somali American United Council of Arizona (SAUC).

I remember the first time I met with Dr. Mohamed  Ali Abukar, President of the Somali American United Council. A very humble, kind hearted soul, who my entire team admires and deeply respects. A well respected and active figure in the Somali community, Dr. Abukar wears many hats when it comes to community engagement and serves on numerous boards. This is apparent in the community event picture frames on the center’s walls. I was in awe of the passion Dr. Abukar had for helping his community.

SAUC’s vision is to become the premier institution that offers high quality services to the Somali-American community and prepare individuals of the highest moral fiber. Among services provided by SAUC are women empowerment, literacy and tutoring classes, job readiness, housing assistance, senior assistance, new arrival orientation, public transportation safety training and consumer education for refugees.

The partnership between Mayo Clinic’s Health Equity and Community Engaged Research Program and SAUC gave rise to the Somali Tobacco Outreach and Research Initiative: Community Health Needs Assessment Project (STORI).  This project is funded by the Mayo Clinic OHDR.

The aims of this project are to:

  • Implement a community-driven process of developing culturally and linguistically appropriate needs assessment components for the Phoenix-area Somali refugee community
  • Assess the healthcare access and the clinical service utilization of the Somali refugee community in order to inform future clinical studies
  • Examine and identify the tobacco use behaviors of the community
  • Assess the social networks among the Phoenix Somali Refugee community and identify key opinion leaders

Dr. Scott Leischow, the principal investigator, Dr. Janet Okamoto, co-investigator and Dr. Mohamed Abukar, co-investigator, provided exemplary leadership. As the project culminates, we have collected 200 surveys and are in the focus group interview phase. SAUC staff has been very instrumental in the recruitment and data collection process and have done a wonderful job implementing the project under Dr. Abukar and Mayo Clinic’s research team leadership.

“This project has been a great collaborative effort with our community partners. The community has been so welcoming, and added so much to the research process, that we are highly motivated to continue this work and expand on this pilot project in the near future in order to better address health disparities among the Somali refugee population.” said Dr. Janet Okamoto.

We want to give a big thank you to the SAUC team and the Somali community. We are looking forward to sharing the results with the community during the dissemination phase, and partnering in new innovative ways in the future.





Farhia Omar is a Research Program Coordinator for the Health Equity and Community Engaged Research Program at Mayo Clinic, Arizona and the coordinator for the STORI project.

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