FHS alumnus Sarah Savić Kallesøe was recently accepted into Oxford’s DPhil of Population Health program with full funding for her studies and research from a prestigious scholarship.

FHS alumnus accepted into prestigious Oxford Doctor of Philosophy in Population Health program

September 22, 2022

By: Geron Malbas

Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) alumnus Sarah Savić Kallesøe was recently accepted into Oxford University’s Doctorate of Philosophy (DPhil) in Population Health program, funded by the prestigious and competitive Clarendon Scholarship.

Savić Kallesøe’s drive to be a public health champion extends far along her time studying and researching with SFU. She focused much of her Bachelor of Sciences work on access to health services among refugees in Canada and the United States; she completed Dr. Shira Goldenberg’s HSCI 496 field-research class in Tijuana and San Diego in 2018, examining how protectionist border policies affect the health and well-being of people who live around the border, specifically people who are considered to be undocumented or deported refugees. She examined how deportation and the experience had public health implications, noting that deportation is neither clinical, clear, nor straightforward.

“If you talk to the people who live that experience, it's all just a farce; there's no support, you have none of your possessions or documents, you don't expect it - you're completely at a loss,” Savić Kallesøe says. “Public health policies and inequities don’t come to mind when you think of border policies. In reality, the way countries handle migration plays a direct role in the reproductive health, mental health, and economic stability of populations, especially those migrating. And as climate change progresses, we will see more people crossing borders to escape climate disasters. By combining the understanding of lived experiences and the qualitative aspects of public health, we were able to have a stronger idea of what was happening and how to help people in the public health context.”

Upon completing her BSc degree in 2019, she completed an accelerated 10-month Master’s program with the University of Cambridge to receive her Master of Philosophy in Public Health. She then began working with FHS professor Will Hsiao in 2020 in his Centre for Infectious Disease Genomics and One Health lab as a Public Health Researcher and Project Lead engaging with the Canadian COVID-19 Genomics Network and various Canadian public health authorities to identify enhanced metadata requirements for analyses.

Her team helps facilitate moving and harmonizing data from provinces and collection sites to the federal government, as collected patient data from across Canada can come in many forms, like electronic forms self-reports, hospital records, and more. Additionally, she also works to understand the public’s opinion on COVID-19 research specifically what kind of data the public would keep private or available to researchers.

“Our team created tools to help facilitate the transformation of data into something comparable for everyone, therefore it has more utility,” Savić Kallesøe explains. “Additionally, the medical care that we can provide people within hospitals and preventative care can be made better if it's informed by data from the grand population, especially from people that are not yet in a hospital. We're hoping to get a better understanding of what Canadians think of data sharing, specifically their health data, and how comfortable would they be with researchers using that data to support public health infrastructure and medical care.”

Receiving the Clarendon Scholarship is an honour and a privilege for her as it is both highly competitive and awarded based on outstanding academic merit, distributed to a few hundred recipients each year.  Being selected means her time at Oxford will be fully funded, as well as a grant for her living experiences.

During her time in Oxford’s DPhil in Population Health program, Savić Kallesøe plans to expand on her current work with patient data sharing. While she has researched the topic from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective, she will study a bioethics of philosophy approach to explore what kind of trusting relationship needs to exist between a patient or a member of the population, and the government, to create a viable public health infrastructure. For students looking to pursue similar work, she advises them to explore their options throughout their education.

“Exploring and being curious is very valuable, and in today's day and age it can be so easy to get caught up with life, deadlines, and projects,” she says. “By taking the time to be curious you will find out not only what you like, but also what you don't like. Taking time can look different for everybody, and it doesn't have to be the way you think it's going to be, but taking time to be curious and to explore is hugely valuable.”