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SFU health science student helps address equality gap faced by B.C. seniors with HIV

January 28, 2019
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By Justin Wong

During Katrina Koehn's first-year studies in SFU's Faculty of Health Sciences she became interested in finding opportunities to apply what she had just learned in the classroom to help those facing health inequalities in her community.  

That’s when she teamed up with SFU health sciences professor Robert Hogg, who was teaching one of her classes and wanted to encourage her curiosity. He invited Koehn to join his colleagues at BCCfE, where she received her first taste of hands-on learning, as a researcher gathering and analyzing data.

During that time, she attended a community event where she heard stories from B.C. seniors with HIV who were facing issues in the healthcare system. This motivated her to focus her research to help those in her community facing the same problems.

Through her work, she says "I discovered that while seniors' health care services are starting to prepare for increased demands from the aging baby-boomer population, there is one ailment that home and community care may not be prepared to address: stigma."

This makes health care professionals afraid to provide services to these patients and it impacts the quality of care they receive.

"Working with the BCCfE has taught me about how more hidden populations, such as seniors living with HIV, are  getting left behind in our healthcare system," says Koehn, now a fourth-year student. "There is progress currently being made through training programs for B.C. healthcare workers, but there is still a long road ahead in helping end the stigma."

SFU helps prepare and encourage its students to make a difference in their communities as socially responsible citizens through its curriculum, which features experiential learning opportunities like the co-op program.

SFU fourth-year health science student Katrina Koehn attended the University Social Responsibility Network Summit as a student ambassador. She is seen in the bottom row, fourth from the right.

Recently, SFU joined the University Social Responsibility Network (USRN), the first and only Canadian university to do so. The initiative brings together universities from across the globe to contribute to the betterment of society through institutional policies, practices, teaching, research and engagement.

“We look forward to learning and sharing ideas with the other universities in USRN to help facilitate new experiential learning opportunities for our students, and to deliver on SFU’s commitment to social responsibility and community engagement,” says Joy Johnson, SFU’s vice-president, Research and International.

In December 2018, Koehn represented SFU as a student ambassador at the USRN summit, which took place in Israel. She presented on her work as an  HIV researcher and on how SFU prepares students to promote social responsibility through initiatives like the Semester in Dialogue Program and a field course on HIV among youth, which is taught in South Africa.

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