The symbiosis of numbers and narrative in research

Tina Afshar’s high school years are marked by a significant memory related to public health: No one vaped. “I was part of the last cohort to graduate without a prevalent vaping culture,” says Tina, a Legacy for Airway Health (LAH) research trainee and second-year M.Sc. student enrolled at the UBC School of Population and Public Health. “I could count on one hand the times I saw a vape.”

In the six years since leaving high school, Tina has watched school-based vaping numbers explode quicker than one can ask, “Got a light?” To the chagrin of public health officials coast-to-coast, students seem unable to resist the pull of the Juul; a sleek new system for delivering nicotine effectively into the bloodstream of young adults who are often naïve to vaping’s addictive dark side.

“I’m fascinated by how quickly the culture changed,” says Tina of the interest that has evolved into a research opportunity.

She is set to lead a new study at Vancouver General Hospital that will look at the short-term health effects of vaping cessation in young adults. Her previous work, involving injured workers and people with COPD, sets her up well to lead this scientific inquiry under the supervision of LAH’s Director, Dr. Chris Carlsten.

The study, conceived in collaboration with LAH, will take a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to this new public health challenge. It will bring together clinical, community and research professionals to further the goal of improving policies, clinical practices, and care of patients and communities at risk.

As with all LAH research, patient partners will be consulted at each stage of the study. And it is the meshing of quantitative to qualitative data that excites Tina about her work with LAH.

“It’s easy only to focus on data, but our research is about more than just publishing a paper,” she says. “Connecting the data to people so that it has a real impact on lives is the reason I do this work. It’s important that we collaborate with our patient partners to share our information with the public in a way that is both useful and meaningful.”