Master’s grad’s determination pays off
Twice during biologist Michel Yao’s pursuit of a master’s degree in public health (MPH), he came close to calling it quits.
The first time was two years ago, a month into the French-speaking Côte D’Ivoire native’s MPH studies. His difficulties with English made it hard to stay on top of his courses, a practicum and a research-intensive capstone project.
But he was determined to leverage his biology and biomedical technology degrees, public-health training and clinical experience in the Congo into a career in disease control, so he stuck it out. Then last fall he lost a month of academic time when he had to return to West Africa on short notice. Again he stuck it out, working furiously until he caught up.
“Disease prevention and outbreak investigations are really what draw me to public health,” says Yao. “At a certain level all your knowledge and skill come into play. My plant biology work was a stepping stone to my work in human disease control.”
The Burnaby resident’s master’s thesis and capstone project supervisor, health sciences assistant professor Zabrina Brumme, couldn’t agree more. She says Yao’s success epitomizes the health sciences faculty’s “from cell to society approach.”
For his capstone project, Yao used an existing public health evaluations model to develop strategies for assessing and improving B.C. doctors’ attitudes towards universal HIV testing.
He had discovered that doctors in Vancouver pose a significant barrier to the success of the provincial government’s new “treatment as prevention” approach to controlling the spread of HIV. Known as STOP-HIV/AIDS, the initiative aims to encourage front line physicians to help expand HIV testing and treatment to curb the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Brumme applauds Yao’s capstone project as a shining example of community engagement. “The international medical community is looking to B.C. for the way forward to eliminate HIV/AIDS,” she says. “It is truly exciting that SFU students such as Michel are making contributions to history, through their contributions to the STOP-HIV/AIDS initiative.”
Simon Fraser University is Canada's top-ranked comprehensive university and one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.
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