For new faculty member Dr. Sarai Racey, understanding these links between communities and health is natural.
"I grew up in a very rural community,” she said, adding this has helped her realize solutions in health care for large cities do not always work for smaller communities.
Gaining this kind understanding can help health professionals as they develop connections within small communities—a key component of the new program.
The pathway program is aimed at students planning to study medicine, dentistry, pharmacology, chiropractic practice, optometry, health science research or other related areas. The first two years focus on core competencies to prepare for upper-level health sciences and biology courses before shifting to higher-level studies. Students also work with local health professionals and learn from Indigenous Elders and communities. With the new NIC program’s students building connections with their community, the hope is they return there to work following their education.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity,” Racey said. “The connections we have in this community are pretty amazing.”
Her own rural background outside of Kingston, Ont., influenced her PhD dissertation, as she started exploring the low rates of cervical cancer screening in a small Ontario community. As she explains, some women’s hesitancy about getting screened is based in concerns about privacy. For example, their doctor might be their child’s soccer coach, which might make some women uncomfortable about getting certain tests.
Racey’s resume includes a PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Toronto, a Master of Public Health from SFU and a postdoctoral fellowship from UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. Her teaching experience includes practicum supervisor at UBC, sessional instructor at University of Victoria and as a past faculty facilitator at the BC Children’s Hospital Mini Med School Program. In 2022, she received the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute’s Outstanding Achievement Award by a Postdoctoral Student for her research.
She and her partner, who is a family physician, had both been at school in Toronto but ended up in B.C. after signing on with the Strathcona Family Medicine program through UBC, and the couple has since settled in Cumberland. They also provided input to Dr. Aisling Brady of NIC for the Pre-Health Program. Brady, herself, is an accomplished teacher and researcher who oversaw the formation of the program. “The addition of Sarai to the Math-Science department and the Island Pre-Health Science program is indispensable. She brings a wealth of experience in the field of public health and epidemiology, and is a dedicated post-secondary educator,” she said.
Brady describes Racey as a health scientist tightly associated with community, with her various research projects and work in the Comox Valley and B.C. Through these, she brings real world experience to NIC students, which can help connect them to various networks and opportunities in rural communities.
“I am fortunate to have Sarai work alongside me as we welcome our first cohort this fall, and I have no doubt she will bring great ideas, enthusiasm and expertise to this program,” Brady added.
Another opportunity Racey sees for the program is the chance to reach younger students, so they can set out on their pathway earlier. In her own case, she had never even heard of epidemiology until she decided to take a course in her third year.
With the new NIC program, students can now start to think earlier about a pathway in the health sciences and how to make those connections with communities in which they may soon practise.
“I think it’s really exciting for students,” she said.
For more information, see the program page at the NIC website. https://www.nic.bc.ca/programs/arts-science-and-management/math-and-science/island-pre-health-science-advanced-diploma/