Bringing years of global health experience working in burns & reconstructive surgery care in West Africa, Catherine seeks to address structural health inequities in BC where groups of people who live in marginalizing conditions experience higher risks of burn injuries, but with the least access to care. Catherine plans to document, adapt, and design strategies to redress health inequities in burns care locally and globally. 

United Kingdom
Special UBC Graduate Scholarship-NURS Faculty Development Award
Research Description

My research is focused on burns in underserved population in British Columbia. Identifying and gaining a fuller understanding of burns in underserved communities will promote the development and/or adoption of interventions and policies that are contextually derived, and specific to the needs of the people. Additionally, it will provide a foundation for redressing structural inequities in burns care, including the development of a more expansive burns registry. Burns is the fourth most common substantial injury after road traffic accidents, falls, and interpersonal violence. Eleven million burn injuries of all types occur annually worldwide with approximately 180,000 deaths, thus making it a global public health concern. There has been significant progress in all aspects of burn care, yet there are many communities in Canada that have a higher risk for burn injury with limited access to burns care, particularly those groups with unmet healthcare needs. For example, Indigenous people have a higher fire-related mortality rate in comparison to non-Indigenous people in Canada, and some population groups continually experience higher risks of burn injury, such as rural and remote communities, people with lower socioeconomic status, and people who live in homeless encampments and use substances. However, the extent of how burns affect these groups is unknown. My study aims to interpret, and document burn injury in groups who are systemically underrepresented but continues to remain most at risk. Expanding our understanding will prompt us to interrogate structural features that create an oversight in burn prevention and care services so that communities who are underserved are not ‘left behind’.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

I am committed to building meaningful partnerships beyond academic borders. Through the Public Scholars Initiative, I will have the opportunity and the platform to reify the transformative promise of “leaving no one behind.” Therefore, being a public scholar to me means I will serve the local and the global community through my research endeavours.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

The Public Scholars Initiative is innovative and transformative because it encourages PhD students to think outside the box. This mindset will prepare PhD students to diversify how we co-create knowledge with our community partners and key stakeholders. Thus, I (re)imagine my PhD experience will be unique and evolving beyond the traditional research structures.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

My PhD project converges with the work I already do in burns and reconstructive surgery care in global health. However, my PhD training will equip me with a different set of skills that can be used in building a foundation for designing equity-oriented burn prevention and care strategies for application in Canada as well as offering an approach that can be adapted to other contexts, including low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) with which I have worked, and where such analysis is urgently needed.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

My proposed doctoral research is an outcome of fruitful collaborations with the community in West Africa, the National Indigenous Fire Safety Council (NIFSC) of BC, the BC Burn Fund, the Canadian Burns Association, and burn clinicians across BC and beyond. I was invited by NIFSC to collaborate with Statistics Canada on a research study that explored mortality and morbidity related to burns in the First Nation communities. In my role as the director of ReSurge Africa, I work very closely with the community in Sierra Leone in advancing burns and reconstructive surgery care. I intend to strengthen these collaborations and ensure that my scholarly commitments are guided by the memorandum of understanding (MOU) I have with my collaborators, ensuring that I uphold principles of reciprocity, authentic partnering, and shared benefits. In this way, my research has engaged, and will continue to engage the local and global communities and social partners.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

I am inspired by Paulo Freire’s (1970) stance that education is never neutral, and I hope to embrace this way of thinking in my scholarly pursuits. I wish to take every opportunity to promote social justice and advance equity through my research so we ‘leave no one behind’.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

My clinical experience in Sierra Leone gave me an insight into burns care that I didn't have as a nurse working in a privileged country such as the UK. Burns care was non-existent at the time, and the fragmentation across governance structures, funding, and external actor engagement exacerbated issues of healthcare sustainability in Sierra Leone. In the absence of reconstructive surgery and burn care, many children and adults were left untreated and debilitated from their injuries. Burn survivors were stigmatized and ostracized in communities due to their physical disfigurements and disabilities; the burden of injury from burns was profound. The unfair and avoidable health disparities and peoples’ stories gave me the impetus to understand the complex nature of health inequities in groups who are ‘left behind'. Despite the afflictions they endured, their humanity and compassion were unceasing. They inspired me to dedicate my professional and personal pursuits to the transformational promise of ‘leave no one behind’. This is one of the reasons why I am pursuing a graduate degree — to redress inequities in burns care.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

UBC is ranked as one of the world’s best universities, and the UBC School of Nursing (SoN) has an array of faculty with expertise in social justice and research methodologies. My supervisor, Dr. Colleen Varcoe is a leading expert on violence, cultural safety, trauma and violence-informed care, and equity-oriented health care with experience working with rural, remote, and Indigenous communities. When I met with Dr. Varcoe as a potential PhD student, I instantly connected with her. Besides her international reputation, research expertise, and high-quality supervision, Dr. Varcoe is humble, empathetic, and inspiring; she has a genuine interest in facilitating my growth as a novice researcher. I am privileged to learn from a talented group of nursing and interdisciplinary scholars at UBC.