Sadaf Saleem Murad wears multiple hats: providing care as a bedside nurse in dementia lockdown units, working as a lecturer at the University of Alberta undergraduate nursing department, and serving as a research assistant and PhD candidate investigating rehabilitation in older adults with dementia. Sadaf was also recently recognised as one of the World Health Organization’s 100 Outstanding Nurses and Midwives.

Raised in Karachi, Pakistan, Sadaf completed her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing at Aga Khan University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery in 2009 and then pursued a Master’s degree in Gerontology and Teaching at the University of Alberta in Canada, where she is currently based.

Sadaf explains that there are currently many gaps in the healthcare system in terms of providing care for older adults. Many seniors experience depression as a result of isolation. Additionally, when older adults undergo surgery, lack of specialised care can negatively impact their quality of life during recovery. This is what inspired Sadaf to pursue gerontology as her specialisation and elicit change.

Sadaf describes what drew her in particular to work with older adults in dementia lockdown units.

“Those older adults [have] taught me a lot. They might not be cognitively stable according to societal view, but what they taught me about life neither my parents nor friends were able to teach me,” she said. “They don’t remember anything, they don’t know who they are, but they know how to be happy. They live in the present, [and] they know how to help each other.”

Within the Jamat, Sadaf also works with seniors portfolios to address issues such as depression and isolation. These conditions became more prevalent with the onset of Covid. At the start of the pandemic, Sadaf supported many of the seniors in her Jamat by calling them to converse on a daily basis.

“Just that half-hour interaction changed their life. They knew someone would call them,” she said. “Change starts from small things. I think that changes a lot in my perspective.”

Sadaf also advocates for the importance of developing programmes within the Jamat where seniors can acquire new beneficial skills, such as yoga or learning to use an iPad. Having regularly scheduled programmes with homework can offer them a sense of purpose and drive, she adds.

She also explains how beneficial youth-senior relationships can be and advocates for developing programmes that pair youth with seniors so both can learn from each other and build a strong relationship.

Throughout her career journey, Sadaf described how she has been guided by four C’s - consistency, confidence, collaboration, and commitment.

“Remember this is your own journey. You need to commit to yourself and be consistent on that. You need to collaborate to achieve that and be confident in yourself,” she said.

When Sadaf first found out about her recognition as an outstanding nurse, she felt shocked and overwhelmed with gratitude.

“My name may be there as a front line, but it’s really not me — it’s also those mentors and nurses who worked with me,” she said. “I am representing those nurses. I am really thankful for this honour — I never thought in my life I could be an outstanding nurse.”

As a future aspiration, Sadaf hopes to one day open a rehabilitation centre focused on providing specialised care and enhanced quality of life for older adults with cognitive and brain injuries.