Engaging the next generation of health researchers
Research that takes sex and gender into account leads to better treatment and practices that are universally beneficial – but who is conducting the research is also a very important piece. At Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI), we are leading by example to help build equity and diversity among health researchers in Canada. We have launched new initiatives to engage individuals from groups that have been previously under-represented as researchers, supporting them in the field and helping them advance into leadership roles.
Dr. Mona Loutfy
Leading some of this work is Dr. Mona Loutfy, senior scientist at WCRI. Dr. Loutfy’s research focuses on achieving health equity for individuals living with or affected by HIV – particularly among under-served and stigmatized populations of women who are often disproportionately impacted by the disease. She has made it a priority in her research program to hire and train individuals who belong to the communities she works with.
In her work with Indigenous communities, Dr. Loutfy has trained and hired Indigenous research coordinators and research assistants. She has also included Indigenous women living with HIV on her team as peer research associates, who conduct focus groups, interviews and/or surveys. Working alongside and being taught by team members who are Indigenous has proven invaluable to the success of the research that aims to impact Indigenous communities, with peer research associates being integral to building a relationship of trust with participants in their own communities.
“It really is crucial to have Indigenous women living with HIV working with me, who know the individuals in their community and are able to meet with potential research participants in spaces where they feel most comfortable,” notes Dr. Loutfy. “In turn, by hiring these women to be research assistants, we are able to support them in achieving success within the academic system – another colonized institution. Our research associates have been incredibly successful in obtaining graduate degrees and scientist positions.”
More recently, Dr. Loutfy has hired a trans woman research coordinator to launch the Trans Women HIV Research Initiative. This group has held two educational workshops for care providers in the Toronto area with the goal of expanding capacity and knowledge regarding trans health and HIV. This group is also running multiple research projects in Toronto and across Canada on trans women’s health and HIV.