By Christine Elie
Six years ago, Wei Cao moved from Beijing to Kingston. “I came to Kingston, Ontario” she says “with two 50 pound suitcases, and a heart full of hopes and dreams.” This move was quite intimidating. Moving from the large bustling metropolis of Beijing to Kingston proved to be quite challenging. “Transitioning to a new school, a new environment, and a whole new life was difficult at the beginning, but I managed to make some of the best friends of my life during the past six years at Queen’s.” These friends, who she describes as her “family away from family” helped her learn to love both Kingston and Queen’s.
Wei found support from many sources when she made her move to Kingston. She says that in addition to the network of friends that she found here she could not have achieved all of her goals without her parents: “with their help and of course my parents’ endless love and support, financial and in other forms, I managed to complete two degrees with good academic standing in a second language.”
Wei came to Queen’s as an undergrad to study health studies and psychology. She always had an interest in health sciences but found herself drawn to larger scale issues. While she found molecular and biological intriguing, she was more interested in health as it interacts with populations and societies. She credits her undergrad project supervisor, Dr. Amy Latimer (School of Kinesiology and Health Studies), with inspiring her to pursue a Master’s in Public Health (MPH). Wei says, “Her expertise in health promotion and her guidance helped me to shape my interests and to decide on a further pursuit through a graduate program in public health.”
When she began her work in the MPH program, Wei did face some challenges. The wide range of classes from many disciplines meant that she had to face off against Biostatistics. Of this experience, Wei states “Statistics was probably one of the harder classes we had. I think I was a bit short on confidence in my own mathematical skills, and I had a high expectation of what I should achieve in each and every one of my classes, so that was a bit of a struggle.” While challenging, this did not deter Wei from the program. The interdisciplinary nature of the program is one of the things that she sees as an asset. Though challenging, she claims that engaging with the variety of disciplines and backgrounds of the professors in the program “was wonderful learning from all their interesting experiences.”
In one of her elective courses, Wei studied cancer services in Canada focusing on Cancer Care Ontario. Encouraged and inspired by the way in which the organization “positions itself in such a complicated chronic disease pathway, and all the initiatives to improve quality and patient centered care” she knew that she wanted to work for an organization that focused on improving services to the public. When she began her job search, she noticed an opening at Cancer Care Ontario for the position of project coordinator for the surgical oncology program. “So I went for it” she says, “and with a bit of luck and lots of preparation, I got the job.”
As project coordinator for Cancer Care Ontario, Wei has a wide range of responsibilities. “Part of my job is to organize cancer disease site specific working groups across various cancer related disciplines…with the assistance of Program in Evidence-Based Care, we employ scientific evidence to decision making regarding the quality of cancer surgery services across the province.” Her work see’s her in discussion with people from a variety of disciplines from surgery and pathology to radiation and oncology. The fundamental goal of this work is to ensure that “no matter where a patient is at, he/she is receiving the most appropriate care while going through the cancer journey with the best support they needed.”
Looking back at her time at Queen’s, Wei believes that the institution contributed far more than academic development to her life. Wei believes “more important of all, my time at Queen’s taught me who I am as a person, and how I want to live my life. I will forever be grateful for my time at Queen’s, all the beautiful memories, all the friendships I took away, and the many doors it opened for me!”