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Introducing News Team Member Vivian Tsao

As a Human Health major and Political Science minor, I’ve always had a fascination for the intersection of public policy and public health. Last summer I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant at the UBC School of Population and Public Health in Vancouver, Canada. The experience has proven to be one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, times of my life for several reasons. It was my first time doing research, and my three months of work were a constant battle with my imposter syndrome — I felt inadequate and that I didn’t belong. It was also my first time getting paid since I had previously had trouble getting a job as an international student without traditional work authorization. Lastly, I was moving to a city where I barely knew anyone, and was therefore starting a temporary life in a brand new environment.

The focus of my department was public policy research, therefore a lot of our work was about how we can improve the Canadian healthcare system. My supervising professor, Dr. Sutherland, mostly worked on measuring whether wait times for specific surgeries impacted patients’ quality of life. My project over the summer entailed measuring the association between shoe wear comfort and ankle-related quality of life among people with end-stage ankle arthritis. In simpler terms, we were finding an evidence based approach for doctors to recommend shoe-wear for patients post-ankle surgery. By working closely with surgeons at St. Paul’s Hospital, we collected data from more than 2000 patients in order to properly calculate our shoe wear scores.

Though I felt the significance of the work being done at the UBC School of Population and Public Health, my learning experience was more heavily impacted by my coworkers and the city of Vancouver itself. My boss insisted that I work four out of five days a week so I could have long weekends to travel and explore Canada. With these flexible hours, I was able to plan hiking trips, bike around the city, and visit the beach after work. By immersing myself in the city’s culture, I truly felt their dedication to nature and sense of environmental responsibility.

Vancouverites take their health seriously. This was a concept that was brand new to me. I grew up in a Taiwanese family and lived most of my life in Shanghai, China. East Asian culture focuses heavily on how skinny a woman looks, and does not open up conversation on the health implications behind these unrealistic beauty standards. I grew up in a culture where physical activity was not necessarily a priority, and excessive dieting was a norm. By spending my summer in Vancouver, Canada’s most physically active city, I was able to fall in love with a healthier, more active lifestyle.

By researching more about Canada’s universal healthcare system, I couldn’t help but feel a strong sense of gratitude for my mother’s decision to stay in Canada in her young adult life and allowing us to become dual Canada/Taiwan citizens. I am fortunate enough to be a citizen in two countries that provide quality, universal healthcare. It was always something I took for granted when I was younger, but as I slowly become more financially independent, I realize the constraints healthcare can put on an individual’s economic autonomy.

It’s been half a year since my internship in Vancouver, but the lessons and first hand experiences with health have been imprinted onto my life. I love and appreciate any and all methods of learning more about new health perspectives, and I look forward to bringing my creative energy into Emory’s DestinationEU News Team.