April 1, 2017

Emma Buzath | Using mental skills to solve the medical care puzzle

The mental skills it takes to safely scale a 50-metre-high cliff is what rock climber Emma Buzath brings to her work at the Cumming School of Medicine.

The mental skills it takes to safely scale a 50-metre-high cliff is what rock climber Emma Buzath brings to her work at the Cumming School of Medicine.

“I guess it’s the same thing in the sense that it’s a puzzle,” says Emma, who is a research assistant at the faculty. “There are so many different factors that can influence medical care.”

As part of the faculty’s Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement (SPaCE) team, she assists a research project called Community Conversations: Enhancing end-of-life supports in the Bow Valley Corridor. Her job includes capturing people’s experiences and opinions surrounding palliative and end-of-life care in an area stretching from Cochrane and Canmore to Banff.

“Most of the people who came out were those who have lost somebody close to them, or who cared for somebody as they’re approaching the end of their lives, but it could have been anybody who wanted to talk to us,” says Emma. “It was really about the whole community and how palliative and end-of-life care affects everybody.”

The mindset the 22-year-old brings to her job was first cultivated doing rock climbing starting at age 10. Emma enjoys practicing the sport in the Rocky Mountains.

Safely scaling multiple sets of slopes and cliffs means planning the most efficient route while anticipating potential dangers, says Emma. “Climbing isn’t just a physical sport, it’s a mental sport,” she says.

She joined the Bow Valley project after earning her Bachelor of Health Sciences (honours) degree in 2016. She majored in health and society because she is fascinated by the complexity behind the social side of health care, particularly for diverse and vulnerable populations.

Improving their health isn’t as straightforward as looking at a patient and giving a diagnosis, says Emma. “There’s also the social support you have around you, or the type of diet you have, or the type of housing or community you live in, and how all of these different things lead from point A to point B,” she says. “It’s like a puzzle in the sense that you have all these things coming together.”

Emma temporarily left her job for two months on May 19 to study bioethics at Yale University. She credits her mentor – Dr. Eric Wasylenko, a palliative care physician who is a clinical associate professor at the Cumming School of Medicine – with making the opportunity possible. “He spent so much time with me, teaching me about ethics and allowing me to do my thesis with him,” she says.

Tidbits from Emma

What do you enjoy most about the Cumming School of Medicine: I had my days at my desk, but there were lots of days when I was in Canmore, Banff or Cochrane talking to people.

What would you like people to know about your work: It can be a great way to get a community involved in work that impacts its members.

What does it mean to you that the faculty is celebrating its 50th anniversary? You can see just how far we have come and how we continue to be an important part of the community.

Where would you like to see the faculty in the next 50 years? I’d like them to continue doing community-based projects – to help people develop their capacity to address their own health. That would be spectacular.

Advice for incoming students: Take advantage of every opportunity. Don’t be overwhelmed by all the different options.