When Dr. Annalee Coakley enrolled at the prestigious London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in 2009, she dreamed of a career treating tropical infectious diseases. Back in Calgary, Coakley realized opportunities to practice this kind of medicine were limited, so she changed course and ended up at the Mosaic Refugee Health Clinic. There, she developed such an affinity for her patients that she took over as physician lead in 2012.
Since joining the Mosaic clinic, Coakley has worked directly with groups of Syrian, Yazidi and, most recently, Afghan refugees, and also helped address COVID-19 breakouts and vaccine clinics in Alberta’s meat-packing plants. Her work has evolved into advocacy, as in 2012, when federal government cuts to refugee-health programs left her having to fight for her patients to receive adequate funding for their medical needs. The influx of Yazidi refugees fleeing ISIS in 2017 was particularly challenging — many suffered the impact of severe psychological trauma, and Canadian policy meant countless people were separated from their only surviving family members with no mechanism for reunion. Coakley had to act as a lifeline to try to help these survivors find a sense of community to begin the road to physical and mental recovery.
“You’re forced into an advocacy role so that people can form a network of supports. You have to engage in that to address their health needs,” Coakley says. “I do this work so people can resettle successfully and eventually thrive in Calgary and in Canada. They eventually do very well once those supports are in place.”
Throughout it all, Coakley maintains her sense of humour and takes long cycling trips to let off steam. While she admits to sometimes feeling overwhelmed, the constant influx and changing nature of the people coming into her clinic keeps her charged. “I was so tired at the end of June after the vaccine clinics and then we started to receive the Afghan refugees and I was just rejuvenated,” she says. “They’re a really interesting group and have such a positive energy that rubs off on me.”