Karin Humphries’, MSC’86, roots are firmly set in British Columbia, but it was the journey leading her to pursue a PhD in epidemiology at Erasmus University in Netherlands that helped her figure out how she wants to contribute to the health of her province.
After completing an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and kinesiology at SFU and her MSc in experimental pathology in the UBC Faculty of Medicine, Humphries worked as a bench scientist in biochemical medical research. As she took on more and more administrative responsibilities, she felt she needed the skills of an executive MBA. After graduating from SFU once again, her experience in both research and administration helped her secure the position of Director of Research for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of BC & Yukon. It was here that she discovered her interest in heart disease, epidemiology and the social determinants of health.
“I had the chance to hear Fraser Mustard speak at a conference in Toronto about how where you live, how educated you are, and your overall living circumstances are incredibly important for your health,” she says. “That presentation really motivated me.”
She wasn’t content reading about the amazing research other people were doing, so she spoke to contacts she had made over the years about where someone with her experience and interests should pursue a PhD.
“I know it seems like a circuitous route, but taking a break between my Master’s and PhD helped me zero in on what I really wanted to do,” says Humphries.
She settled on Erasmus University in Netherlands because she would be able to focus specifically on heart disease and epidemiology, and the fruits of her labour would be three published papers rather than a traditional thesis.
“After doing all my education here in BC, the opportunity to study in another country was an extraordinary experience. I really, really enjoyed it,” says Humphries. “But I always knew I’d come back to BC. This is my home and where I want to make a contribution.”
As Humphries delved into the practice of epidemiology, she became aware of the disparities between the sexes in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. Interest in this area was also growing at the UBC Faculty of Medicine, Providence Health Care and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, which partnered to create the UBC Heart and Stroke Foundation Professorship in Women’s Cardiovascular Health. She received the professorship for a six-year term in June 2011 and is launching BC’s first research program to focus on gender-based differences in cardiovascular disease. She is investigating the detection and early treatment of cardiovascular disease, finding new ways to improve the education of physicians, women and their families, and developing strategies to improve outcomes for women at highest risk, including Aboriginal and South Asian women and those of poor socio-economic status.
“This professorship is a huge boost to my work. If I can contribute to closing the gap between women and men in terms of the quality of their care and their outcomes, then I will feel that I’ve really achieved something,” says Karin. “I love what I do and I feel very fortunate to be able to say that.”