School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Curing Canadian healthcare woes and building community - Meet Shikha Gupta

Rehabilitation Science, PhD

by Phil Gaudreau, June 2020

Shikha Gupta & Atul Jaiswal and their daughterCanada’s healthcare system has a great reputation that does not always align with its outcomes.

For instance, 2019 numbers from the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows the government spends upwards of $7,068 per person per year, placing Canada just outside the top ten countries for healthcare spending.

However, a 2017 study by the Commonwealth Fund finds that Canada’s healthcare system performs below the average of several of its fellow developed nations including some who spent far less money.

One of the greatest areas for improvement, according to recent Rehabilitation Sciences PhD graduate Shikha Gupta, is in pharmacare.

“Expenditure on medication makes people fall below the poverty line, resulting in debts, loans, and other hardships,” she explains.

Shikha came to Queen’s in 2016 from India to join her husband, Atul Jaiswal, PhD’19, who also completed his doctorate in Rehabilitation Science at Queen’s.

Prior to the move, she worked in India as an occupational therapist helping persons with disabilities. She also completed her master’s in healthcare administration, applying her knowledge to India’s healthcare system. It was during this time she became interested in pharmacare and wanted to pursue further studies.

As she and her husband explored international options for graduate studies, the pair were impressed with the support offered by Queen’s and by its research reputation. When seeking a supervisor, Shikha found her research interests aligned with those of Dr. Mary Ann McColl of the School of Rehabilitation Therapy.

Shikha became fascinated with the cost barriers affecting those who need prescription medication in Canada, and the lack of research around the impacts those barriers had on the patient’s health.

“Canadians who are between 18 and 64 years of age, who do not have drug insurance, have lower income or precarious or irregular employment, and experience high out-of-pocket expenditure on drugs are most likely to face cost-related nonadherence [meaning not taking their medications due to cost],” Shikha noted in a 2018 paper, a topic which she continued to expand upon in later publications.

The couple completed their respective PhDs in less than 4 yours with more than 4 publications. During their time at Queen’s, the couple’s interests went beyond rehabilitation, however. They found the Queen’s graduate student experience to be rewarding academically and socially, particularly through various volunteer and community opportunities.

Atul took on roles with the Society of Graduate and Professional Students, and the pair joined campus working groups designed to improve graduate student success and international student funding. Atul helped organize various conferences to delve into topics such as accessibility and diversity which resulted in a Peer Leadership Award.

Shikha participated in various SGS programs like the PhD-Community Initiative, Grad Chat, and 3MT. Along with many scholarships and awards like the Ontario Graduate Scholarship for International Students, Shikha was even able to secure an education research grant to help the university make better use of its existing writing training to help graduate students unfamiliar with academic writing.

“We have taken advantage of every opportunity to engage with the community during our time at Queen’s,” Shikha says.

Since completing their studies, Atul has begun a post-doctoral opportunity with the University of Montréal, and Shikha, who successfully defended her thesis on June 2, has begun to look for post-doctoral opportunities. The couple have also been taking care of their daughter, who recently turned one.

“The last few months have been challenging and rewarding – the family time has been great, but also challenging as I tried to finish writing and take care of our daughter while Atul continues his post-doctoral work from home,” Shikha says.

In the future, the couple plans on seeking research opportunities in Canada. Shikha hopes to turn her research efforts into government policy and improve Canada’s pharmacare system.

“Evidence is necessary for change but not sufficient,” Shikha notes. “I want to help build stronger and healthier communities through my work.”

Shikha and Atul have already demonstrated a facility in building stronger communities in their time at Queen’s. Vice-Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies Fahim Quadir has worked with both since coming to Queen’s. What stands out for him is “their sincere interest in supporting any initiatives designed to enhance the graduate student experience. Despite their busy academic and family lives, Atul and Shikha never missed an opportunity to make a contribution to building a vibrant graduate community. I look forward to hearing about their future successes and next steps in their dynamic academic careers.”

To learn more about graduate studies at Queen’s, visit the School of Graduate Studies website. To learn more about Rehabilitation Science, visit the School of Rehabilitation Therapy website.