Julianne Barry is one of those rare breeds of university students. She has spent her entire post-secondary academic career—from those first, nervous fresh-faced days to becoming an accomplished researcher and post-doctoral fellow—at UBC’s Okanagan campus.
Adding to that, each one of her UBC degrees is from a different program, giving her an extensive, yet connected, knowledge base.
“My grandfather had diabetes and many of my grandmother’s siblings died at an early age from heart disease,” says Barry. “Because of my indigenous background, I have always been interested in chronic health issues and how some can be prevented.”
Rewind 12 years and Barry is a brand-new biochemistry student, newly-graduated from Keremeos’ Similkameen Secondary School. Four years later she graduates with an honours degree from the Irving K. Barber’s School of Arts and Sciences ’ biochemistry program. She then enters a master’s program in biology, studying heart disease with associate professor Sanjoy Ghosh’s laboratory. She recently wrapped up her PhD work with the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, while currently working as a post-doctoral research assistant in UBC Okanagan’s School of Nursing.
“I was chosen to be a research assistant and we are working with Indigenous communities and trying to find a way to blend traditional healthcare practices with western health care practices,” she says. “There are a lot of inequalities and gaps in health care when we’re working with the indigenous communities. We’d like to find a way to close those gaps.”
The four-year project, working with associate professor of nursing Donna Kurtz, will look at issues such as diabetes and obesity in Indigenous populations with six communities in towns like Kelowna, Vernon, Kamloops, Lillooet and Williams Lake.
“The Canadian Institutes of Health Research has funded four areas for chronic disease with obesity and diabetes being one. Our focus has been on asking what are the needs and priorities of your community and can how we bring traditional practices and western programs and services together,” she says. “It’s a locally-driven project and we are hoping to implement their ideas.”
Barry has strong Aboriginal roots with Ontario’s Manitoulin Island and speaks fondly of her grandparents. Many of Barry’s family suffered from heart disease and died at an early age due to the illness. Unfortunately, as she worked on her PhD, both grandparents passed away within a short timespan.
“My grandmother was the core of my family and she passed away a week before my thesis defence. It was a pretty challenging time.”
Barry is well versed in diabetes research. Her PhD was focussed on the topic.