My research explores the types of stigma people have perceived associated with a Hepatitis C diagnosis, the places it has occurred, and the people present at the moment of stigmatisation. Combine perspectives from patients and healthcare professionals I will bring the insights of patients to healthcare professionals, and teach skills to reduce potentially stigmatising encounters in healthcare workplaces.
Hepatitis C is a major cause of illness and death, including in Canada, where good diagnostics and drugs are available to detect and treat it. Yet, many people who might have hepatitis C don’t get tested, and many of those who do test positive don’t start treatment. One of the reasons people cite for not getting tested or treated is the stigma that they have felt in the healthcare system. My research explores the types of stigma people have perceived, the places it has occurred, and the people present at the moment of stigmatisation. I will study healthcare professionals’ experiences as well. I will combine these perspectives to bring the insights of patients to healthcare professionals, teaching skills to reduce potentially stigmatising encounters in healthcare workplaces. Reducing stigma is an issue of human rights and human dignity, and for me that is reason enough to address it. I also believe that treating all patients with dignity improves health equity.
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?
Being a Public Scholar means not only searching for a research topic that is a priority to a community, but also remaining in dialogue and a reciprocal relationship with the community. The equal relationship lets the community influence the direction of research toward their priorities, and lets me as a scholar shape my research to be useful for the community. Thanks to UBC’s Public Scholar Initiative, I will be part of a group of a larger group of like-minded people who are actively looking for more ways to improve the world. What better people to know? We can start out with a high level of trust and understanding, knowing we are truly dedicated to the public good. We can draw on each others’ knowledge and perspectives, whether it is to start something innovative or to avoid re-inventing the wheel.
In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?
Everyone who pursues a subject at a PhD level feels that the knowledge they are creating is important. For many of us, the effort of the PhD will be the biggest sustained intellectual challenge we meet in our lives. Still, so many students have felt there was a chasm between the new knowledge and its application. We want our research to have an impact. The PSI re-imagines the experience to give force to that impact. The Public Scholars Initiative lets us bridge the divide between learning and action, ensuring the research we do for our PhDs is applied in good time by the people who know it best: we who did it.
How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?
My PhD is in a hot issue and practical area, Infectious Diseases, specifically in hepatitis C. My thesis work is in expanding access to healthcare and increasing health equity by identifying and lowering barriers, in this case stigma in healthcare. I am sorry to say that the issues that drive health inequity — among them marginalisation, trauma (whether personal or inter-generational), structural inequities — will not go away in my lifetime. Even if the particular infection and issue I focus on were eliminated, there will be plenty of other issues to take on. I think that potential employers will appreciate how I have seen this project through from identifying and quantifying a problem, through consulting with the community affected to characterise the problem and search for solutions, and finally to design and implement those solutions in a suite of informational, educational, or training materials for different audiences, including healthcare professionals, newly diagnosed patients, and policy makers.
How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?
As soon as I got to Vancouver I started to get to know people from the local hepatitis C community. They were very welcoming and friendly. Common priorities came out of many discussions. I formed partnerships with some community members, who have a lot of ideas. We are now working together to figure out how to make some of those ideas into reality. Once we do, we will be able to take the results back to the communities, and further develop them together.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
Having years to concentrate on a few issues with the guidance of brilliant people — who wouldn’t take that chance? All the reasons to pursue a graduate degree for me come down to the persistent feeling that I was not yet doing as much as well as I potentially could. I did teach myself some new methods with books and online courses, but I just kept finding I wanted to get in deeper. I am so happy to be doing that now.
Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?
UBC-based researchers’ role in controlling the HIV epidemic and the history of harm reduction is the main reason why I chose UBC. Many of the same principles, like treatment as prevention, apply to eliminating hepatitis C. I also appreciate the strong support for community and patient engagement, which is crucial for those successes as well as for the kind of research that I want to do. The day I got my acceptance I literally jumped for joy.
Being a Public Scholar means not only searching for a research topic that is a priority to a community and the wider public, but also remaining in dialogue and a reciprocal relationship with them. The equal relationship lets the community influence the direction of research toward their priorities, and lets the scholar shape the research to be useful for the community