Job Title: Assistant Professor, School of Public Health, University of Alberta Scientific Director, Inner City Health and Wellness Program, Royal Alexandra Hospital
Why She’s Top 40: Her research is propelling changes that positively impact the health of vulnerable populations.
Aspiration:“I want to reach tenure – that is my major professional goal – and I want to see the establishment of supervised injection sites in Edmonton.”
While studying sociology as an undergrad, Elaine Hyshka came across literature that showed zero-tolerance approaches to substance misuse can have negative impacts. Criminalizing people who use drugs actually stigmatizes addictions and leads to increased chances of overdose, says Hyshka. But treatments that focus on the patients and the contexts of their addictions can save lives.
“It was really eye opening. I was struck that we had knowledge of better approaches, but couldn’t get the political will to do things differently,” says Hyshka.
Hyshka’s PhD research involved the largest drug use and health survey conducted in our city’s history – 320 participants were surveyed about their experiences with drugs in order to better understand risk behaviours and service needs. The data was then used to advocate for additional funding for harm-reduction services, while helping push for the establishment of supervised injection sites.
Her role as an evaluation consultant at the Royal Alexandra Hospital’s Inner City Health and Wellness Program, morphed into her current position as scientific director. As lead of the research arm (while also acting as an assistant professor) Hyshka is helping to improve care for inner city patients through research and evaluation – helping to change perceptions through data gathered straight from the source.
The program is designed to transform care for people who are socially marginalized, vulnerable or experiencing substance misuse. The program has a patient-centred approach, using data to directly inform hospital care.
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“I’m hopeful that stigmas are lifting, and society’s views on drugs are changing, but as a student of drug policy, I know it takes a really long time; so I’m happy to keep pushing the boulder uphill,” she says.