One of Dalhousie’s top academics has been awarded the prestigious designation of University Research Professor.
Each year, up to three Dal professors are awarded the title in recognition of the significant contributions they have made to research and scholarship throughout their careers. With only 15 faculty members holding this title at any given time, it is an acknowledgement of their research productivity and impact.
This year’s recipient, Lois Jackson, a professor in Dal’s Faculty of Health, has devoted her career to the improvement of health among marginalized populations including women involved in the sex industry, people who use substances, and youth (particularly young women) living in rural places.
“I am extremely honoured to be named University Research Professor,” says Dr. Jackson. “The award is meaningful as it recognizes my community-engaged collaborative research with marginalized populations. It also acknowledges the importance of team research and as such all those who have been part of my collaborative research over many years – colleagues from various social science and health disciplines, community-based organizations, government policy makers, health professionals as well as students.”
“Congratulations to Dr. Jackson on being named Dalhousie’s newest University Research Professor,” says Alice Aiken, vice-president research and innovation at Dalhousie. “Not only is she regionally, nationally and globally renowned, she is an excellent scholar, leader and mentor.”
A career focused on community-based organizations
Born and raised in Toronto, Dr. Jackson completed her BA, MA and PhD (Sociology) at the University of Toronto where she also completed a post-doctoral fellowship (Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics) focused on HIV prevention research. Following her post-doctoral fellowship, she worked in the City of Toronto Department of Public Health as a research program consultant, after which she began a tenure-track position at Dalhousie.
“It was when I was a post-doctoral fellow that I became involved in community-based research working with a small non-governmental organization providing HIV prevention education for women involved in the sex industry,” says Dr. Jackson. “This research, and my work with the City of Toronto Department of Public Health, made me realize how important social conditions are to shaping a population’s health.”
She was able to bring her academic training to her community-based health research. That began a career of working with different community-based organizations and people with lived experience, to examine and highlight how various structural forces such as poverty and stigma negatively impact the health of diverse populations.
Addressing health inequities
Dr. Jackson’s research takes a critical social science approach to health inequities, seeking to not only understand the social conditions that often shape health inequities, but also promote program and policy changes to help address these inequities.
“A key goal of my research is to provide marginalized populations with a safe space to talk about how the socio-economic conditions of their lives impact access to resources needed for health,” says Dr. Jackson. “My research has focused in particular on individuals’ experiences trying to access needed health services.”
Health services are a critical resource for supporting and improving health. But according to Dr. Jackson, all too often health services are designed and implemented through a top-down approach without understanding the actual day-to day lived experiences of those who need the services, and the challenges to gaining access and utilization of the services. Dr. Jackson describes her research as “action oriented,” insofar as it is aimed at informing programs and policies to improve access and to help ensure non-stigmatizing, supportive services.
“It was when I moved to Nova Scotia that I became very aware of the rural-urban differences in access to health services, and added a rural lens to my research,” says Dr. Jackson. “Given the large rural population in Atlantic Canada there are many who face challenges in accessing health services because some services, including some harm reduction services, tend to be centralized in urban areas.”
Dr. Jackson has also conducted research with health care workers who are geographically mobile, and who provide care and services in individuals’ homes and communities. This research centres on understanding the economic costs as well as health and safety risks of mobile work experienced by a number of these workers, many of whom are women. This research has taken on a special meaning in the current context of COVID-19 given that there is now greater attention given to the work of health care providers and their role in providing care, often under very challenging conditions.
Building the road to change
There have been many career highlights for Dr. Jackson so far, but one that stands out is the fact that she is able to learn about the everyday lives and experiences of marginalized populations.
“Although hearing about the many challenges they face is often heartbreaking, their resilience in spite of challenging socio-economic conditions and stigmatizing attitudes on the part of many in society is nothing short of amazing,” says Dr. Jackson.
Another career highlight is the time she has spent working with non-governmental, community-based organizations.
“I am always in awe of these organizations that are on the ‘front lines’ and make incredible contributions to the lives of so many - and do so with relatively little recognition and few resources,” says Dr. Jackson. “Working with these organizations is pure joy.”
And, there is still a lot of exciting work on the horizon. Over the next few years Dr. Jackson will be working on a study examining how the practices and policies of addiction treatment services in Atlantic Canada influence access to and retention in treatment.
“I was inspired to do what I do because I believe that we can change the social conditions that negatively impact the health and lives of diverse populations,” says Dr. Jackson. “I am certain we can make a difference when we utilize research evidence for positive change.”
“The road to change is often not easy or quick, but I am inspired everyday by the people that I work with in the community, and by my colleagues and students. I am very passionate about each and every research study because I believe each study is part of the larger process of change.”
Learn more about Dalhousie’s University Research Professors here.
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