It has been an absolute pleasure to work as a part of the Spatial Determinants of Health lab over the past summer. Through the I-CUREUS award, I was able to work with Dr. Paul Peters and an MSc student, Maria Tovar Hidalgo, on a scoping review that examined oral health inequities within rural regions of Canada. The goal of this research was to assess how rurality can affect oral health experiences and outcomes in comparison to urban areas. The research also aims to contribute interventions which have improved poorer oral health outcomes within similar rural communities in countries like Australia, Sweden, and Norway. My work on this project primarily focused on conducting a literature search and extracting subsequent data which would be included in the scoping review.
Before this experience, I had only performed literature reviews for my health science courses and over the summer I was able to familiarize myself with research tools, such as Covidence, and gain a practical understanding of how policy research is composed. I quickly learned that every step within the process of synthesizing data is thorough, and that collaboration is key when it comes to being successful within health research.
I was fortunate to have joined a lab in which I was able to not only collaborate with Maria as often as I had but one in which we could discuss our research within lab meetings and troubleshoot any issues or challenges that might have come up within all of our various research projects. Dr. Paul Peters also maintained a lab environment that prioritized the success and wellbeing of all researchers. I was overwhelmed with the number of resources available at the beginning of the summer that would help me navigate health research and the tools he supplied to encourage better mental health management. I am grateful to have had such a supportive lab and mentor as part of my first research experience.
Some interesting things that I learned within my lab were how to adjust and calibrate a search string so that the resulting literature would become increasingly relevant to what I was searching for. As well, I learned about a multitude of comorbidities within oral health, a field that I was not very familiar with before this project, and about the innovative ways in which oral health could be improved, down to the fluoridation of drinking water. I went into this lab with some understanding about how rurality and access to care can affect health outcomes, however, I was challenged to learn about an entirely different field of public health than what I was exposed to within my classes. Through my participation in this research, I familiarized myself with the scope of oral health within the context of effective health policy development.
This experience allowed me to develop my critical thinking, organization, and time management skills. I was also exposed to a variety of research questions when going through published articles which I am inspired to pursue within my later career. I hope to apply these skills within my future in healthcare and to find many more opportunities as enriching as my time within this research lab.