“This journey has taught me the value of becoming comfortable while existing outside of my comfort zone,” says Faculty of Health Sciences graduand Sarah Chae reflects on the role of tenacity in her undergraduate experience.

FHS graduand champions care and connection for SFU community and beyond

May 31, 2024

By Geron Malbas

Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) Bachelor of Science graduand Sarah Chae is the 2024 recipient of the Gordon M. Shrum Gold Medal. SFU’s most prestigious undergraduate medal is bestowed on the graduating student whose high scholastic standing and extracurricular activities demonstrated outstanding qualities of character and unselfish devotion to the university.

Through her family’s immigration journey and subsequent healthcare experiences in Canada, Chae saw firsthand how the experiences of historically marginalized communities can be easily overlooked in the planning, delivery and evaluation of health care. Coupled with her own experiences as a person living with single-sided deafness, Chae felt a deep personal and professional commitment to contribute to a more person-centred and equitable healthcare system. That commitment led her to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences at SFU.

“What excited me about [a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences at SFU] was the opportunity to learn from and work alongside a community of committed change makers invested in making a positive impact in BC healthcare to support patients, families, and communities,” she explains. “Driven in part by my own experiences, I felt inspired to contribute to the same mission statement as my mentors.”

Chae’s contributions to BC health care began through an Honours thesis with BC Cancer services in the direct aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her thesis focused on understanding the use and effectiveness of telehealth in BC Cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic and exploring the vital role of technology to support better access, experience, and quality of care for cancer patients. It was the first time BC Cancer studied the use of telehealth post-pandemic. In total, Chae analyzed over 270,000 appointments attended by over 68,000 patients. Her results were disseminated at provincial and national platforms, including the BC Cancer Summit, the BC Digital Health Forum, and the Canadian Centre for Applied Research in Cancer Control Conference.

Chae was also involved in several initiatives to strengthen the SFU community experience by promoting student health and wellness. As a leader of the Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) at Health & Counselling Services (HCS), she led a project conducting a health equity impact assessment on the delivery of virtual health services by HCS during the pandemic. Under her leadership, SHAC authored a comprehensive 50-page report containing 19 tangible recommendations presented to HCS decision-makers. Chae also worked with HCS as a Health Peer Educator, creating awareness of personal wellness strategies and student health services across various health topics including sexual health, substance use, nutrition and active living. Chae expanded her involvement with HCS by conducting a 2-year interdisciplinary study on the effectiveness of virtual animal therapies on students’ mental health. Upon study completion, the findings were published in People and Animal: The International Journal of Research and Practice and shared with key partners.

In 2023, Chae’s desire to contribute to a healthier and safer future led her to a new challenge. She was selected to help design a first-of-its-kind planetary health education curriculum for medical schools.

“I was motivated to pursue multiple roles within and outside of SFU to more clearly understand the scope, scale, and depth of opportunities and challenges impacting Canada’s healthcare system,” Chae explains her motivation to explore various areas in her field. “These experiences allowed me to discover my interests and passions within health sciences and enriched my academic experience at SFU. With every new challenge came an opportunity to learn and grow.”

However, throughout her SFU journey, Chae realized that learning is not always a linear path. Over the course of her undergraduate degree, she switched her major three times eventually selecting the Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences.

“There were moments when I felt like I had failed because I did not follow the path I originally set for myself,” she said. “In these moments, I was filled with doubt and uncertainty. I had to reflect deeply and intentionally on the learning I wanted to cultivate during my time at SFU. Today, I am proud of the patience and perseverance I showed myself to achieve my goals. That’s something I’ll be taking with me as I continue to strive to learn and grow outside my comfort zone.”

Looking forward, Chae will be re-joining SFU as a Master of Science in Health Sciences candidate. She will also continue serving in one of BC’s most important healthcare roles, a Patient Partner. She currently sits on the Virtual Health Patient and Family Advisory Council at Fraser Health Authority and looks forward to strengthening person-centred and equitable care. Chae will continue her work with BC Cancer in the Cancer Control Department as a Research Assistant, working with underserved patient populations while supporting better patient safety, quality and experience outcomes in cancer care.