“The courts are not the most ideal place to resolve these questions. So I try and see whether we can resolve things before we get to that point.”
Hospitals face a barrage of legal issues every day. Consent and end-of-life matters, religious opposition to medically essential procedures, personal lawsuits — all are inherent to the business of saving lives. It takes a special kind of lawyer to work among the patients and staff in the health-care system.
The ideal fit is someone with a mind for the intricacies of the law and a heart for the nurturing professions — someone like Salimah Walji-Shivji, who works as the Associate General Counsel, clinical for Alberta Health Services (AHS).
Walji-Shivji and her team are responsible for giving legal clinical advice on patient-care issues to an organization of more than 85,000 employees. The team also advises AHS administrators on health law-related matters, but the big responsibility is what Walji-Shivji describes as the “minute-to-minute, day-to-day stresses and ongoing events that happen within a health-care environment.”
She believes her capacity as an advisor is contingent on understanding the challenges faced by frontline staff and caregivers. That’s why she makes a point of spending time on the floor, in order to have a “mental picture” of the situation when the call is made, whether it’s the middle of the day or the middle of the night.
Having earned a masters degree in social work before entering law helps to make Walji-Shivji an effective mediator in sensitive situations, such as a case where she successfully convinced a family to give consent for their child to have a necessary blood transfusion, despite their initial religion-based objections. “Social workers are not the most comfortable in the courts, and neither am I,” she says, adding “the courts are not the most ideal place to resolve these questions. So I try and see whether we can resolve things before we get to that point.”
Since 2008, Walji-Shivji has been passing on her insights on health-care legislation as a sessional instructor for the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Social Work. Her experiences have also inspired her to join the board of the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, a volunteer commitment of 15 to 20 hours per month. “It’s a charity that resonates with me because of the good work they do,” she says.
Walji-Shivji also extends her professional expertise to the Ismaili Muslim community. Last year, after completing a four-year term as a legal advisor to the Aga Khan Council for the Prairies, Walji-Shivji was offered a three-year term with the Aga Khan National Council for Canada, a position that involves assisting the organization in legal and regulating matters.
“I have a huge amount of pride in being Calgarian and Canadian, and attempt to reflect this in all that I do,” she says.
Why she’s the top: Walji-Shivji leads a team that gives legal clinical advice to employees within Alberta Health Services. Her work covers such touchy topics as blood tranfusion consent in instances where the procedure conflicts with a person’s religious beliefs.
The key to her success: “I really enjoy what I’m doing, and knowing I’m making a difference at the ground level.”