Catherine Worthington, Ph.D., is a faculty member in the School of Public Health and Social Policy at the University of Victoria Faculty of Human and Social Development. She has expertise in program evaluation, survey methods, and qualitative methods. Cathy has a long history of collaboration with HIV communities in conducting community-based and participatory research. As a key partner in PAN’s Community-Based Research Program, Cathy is the co-lead (with PAN’s executive director Evin Jones) for the BC Core Team of the CIHR CBR Collaborative (a program of REACH) and is the academic lead of the Positive Living, Positive Homes community-based research study on HIV and housing in British Columbia. To learn more about Cathy, view this Faces of UVic Research video and this profile on the Universities Without Walls blog.
1. What first piqued your interest in HIV research?
In the early 90s, I was the research coordinator on a national survey of community pharmacies on the potential for provision of safer drug injection products and services through pharmacies. What we heard from the community pharmacists – many of whom reached out to us for more information and support – about the toll HIV was then taking in their communities across Canada, and the tensions of services provision to clients who used injection drugs, was what pulled me in. So much needed to be developed around effective HIV prevention and support services – and that’s still true.
2. How is the community involved in your research?
As a community-based researcher, I’ve been lucky in that most of the studies I have been involved in have been initiated by community partners who have invited me to the table as a researcher ally so, community members – including agency representatives, and people living with HIV or from affected communities – are study leaders and contributors from the start to finish of the projects, and in many roles, including as study investigators, advisors or cultural guides/elders, research coordinators or assistants, or knowledge translation/results use experts. Each study is different; and each study has different ways to engage community members and build community capacity.
3. How is your research applicable in the “real world”?
Since I do program development and evaluation research, my work is pretty much all applicable to real world settings: the central theme in my research is to understand services and systems from service recipient and provider perspectives so that this
information can be used to better design and deliver services so they meet users’ needs and are accessible to the people they are supposed to be assisting. I’ve worked on studies for and with street-involved youth, African immigrant communities, Aboriginal youth, and people living with HIV – and service providers and the health care professions for these populations. Sometimes the research results in small but meaningful changes – like a service name change, change in hours of service, or the training of staff that deliver services – and sometimes the research results are used to support program funding proposals or policy advocacy work.
4. If you had unlimited funds, what area of research would you invest in?
That’s a tough one, but I think the areas where we could have the most positive impact on all vulnerable populations would be to put more resources – research and services – into child and youth development and wellbeing. Although we have done lots of work in the social determinants around HIV (food security, housing, employment), we are still working largely within the HIV silo and pretty far ‘downstream’ – i.e., trying to assist people living with HIV to live healthy lives, and to stop the spread of HIV in communities and individuals who are vulnerable to it.
But from the broader social determinants of health literature, it is clear that vulnerabilities to HIV and a host of other health and social issues start in childhood – whether that’s growing up in an impoverished or socially isolated community; or in a family that is poor, that cannot provide emotional nurturing or is abusive; or with undiagnosed/unsupported mental health issues; or being excluded or victimized because you are ‘different’ because of your colour or culture, gender, sexual orientation or because you have a physical or learning disability. So, my ‘research shopping basket’ has a lot in it, from policy research on income support and community development, to family support, to early childhood education and beyond.
5. If you were able to choose, what is the natural talent you’d like to be gifted with and why?
It changes daily, but it usually has something to do with the arts – I’ve been doing academic writing for so long that I have lost my ability to do creative writing; when I try to draw, I’ve never been able to even make my stick-men look like stick-men; and I would love to play piano, but a teacher told me once I don’t have the hands to be any good at it. I guess the reason for wanting artistic talent is that it would be very a very different headspace from the academic work – it’s nice to not be stuck in ‘thinking’ mode all the time.
Learn more about PAN’s community-based research program