Making health care more equitable

Amber Bourgeois
PhD student Amber Bourgeois. Photo courtesy of Amber Bourgeois

In August, Amber Bourgeois, a PhD candidate with UVic’s School of Nursing, was awarded a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Health System Impact Fellowship.

Bourgeois and more than 50 CIHR fellowship recipients—all PhD candidates and postdoctoral fellows from 10 Canadian universities—will learn while they work in health care and apply their new ideas and innovative approaches to help address real-world health-system challenges.

Bourgeois’ idea for improving Canada’s health system is one she’s carried with her as a nurse practitioner in medical oncology with BC Cancer.

“Throughout my career as an oncology nurse, I have observed the challenges of navigating the cancer-care system, especially for those who are impacted by social and structural inequalities,” she says. “This observation is echoed by the current literature which indicates cancer is one of the leading causes of death for structurally vulnerable groups.”

The current cancer-control model in Canada, Bourgeois adds, is not necessarily the most accessible for those with competing priorities such as food scarcity, shelter and security.

“For some, cancer is diagnosed at a later stage, resulting in worse outcomes. The social and structural inequalities are also contributing to people dying from cancers that are highly treatable and preventable.”

—Amber Bourgeois

Interestingly, she has observed the issues of access to care for vulnerable people in various work locations, including  Alberta, BC and  Australia.

“Over the years in clinical practice, I have found that building relationships is an essential component to individualizing patient’s care needs. It’s enabled me to advocate for patients, so I now view research as a means of advocacy on a macro level. I have witnessed some grave disparities within our health care system and hope to contribute to improving the cancer-treatment pathway for all patients with a cancer diagnosis.”

This fellowship allows Bourgeois to gain what she calls “an unparalleled experience” working as a clinically embedded researcher doing exactly what she has been hoping for all these years.

—Kate Hildebrandt