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Rachel Silverberg will receive a Bachelor of Arts and Science (honours) degree in health studies during USask's 2021 Spring Convocation. (Photo: submitted)

Health studies degree prepares new USask graduate for further education in medicine

When Rachel Silverberg became a University of Saskatchewan (USask) student in 2017, she knew she wanted to eventually study medicine.

As a result, Silverberg sought to complete another degree that would help prepare her for a future in health care. After enrolling in a health studies (HLST) class during her second year of university, she “immediately fell in love” with its interdisciplinary approach.

“I got to study more than just the biological aspect of health, but also the myriad of contributing factors as well,” said Silverberg, who was born and raised in Kamloops, B.C.

Now, during USask’s 2021 Spring Convocation, Silverberg will receive a Bachelor of Arts and Science (honours) degree in health studies. HLST is offered through the Department of Psychology (soon to be renamed the Department of Psychology and Health Studies) in USask’s College of Arts and Science.

Silverberg is grateful for the support of award-winning USask instructors such as Dr. Ulrich Teucher (PhD) and Dr. Marla Mickleborough (PhD), who have focused on the core courses of the undergraduate health studies program since it began in 2015.

“Hands down, the best part about studying at USask for me was how open and kind so many professors are,” Silverberg said. “I feel that USask has found the perfect balance of being a large research university while still having professors willing to invest their time mentoring students. I connected and built relationships with many of my professors, who have served as amazing mentors and role models.”

Silverberg recently found out that she has been accepted into USask’s College of Medicine, setting her on the path to realize her dreams. She described reaching the end of her HLST degree as “bittersweet,” noting that while she is very proud of her accomplishments and her personal growth over the last four years, she is unable to celebrate her graduation with her classmates in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That being said, regardless of the circumstances, I feel so excited to have reached this stepping stone on my educational journey,” she said.

Silverberg’s academic success will be celebrated during the College of Arts and Science’s June 3 Graduation Awards Livestream, during which time she will receive the award for Most Outstanding Graduate in Health Studies. It’s a fitting award for Silverberg who, for the past three years, has been “thoroughly involved” in the Health Studies Student Society (HSSS).

“Initially, I joined the Health Studies Student Society executive to make friends within my degree program since I had changed my major a bit late in the game. I was encouraged by the other executive members to apply for vice-president and then president, which I took in stride,” she said. “I’m the type of person who has always enjoyed being part of a team and taking on leadership responsibilities. I also felt energized to implement new ideas and continue to expand our offerings to HLST students.”

Due to the pandemic, the HSSS made changes to its programming during the 2020-21 year. Silverberg noted that since professors needed to adapt their syllabi for remote learning, the HSSS adapted its events, too.

“In the fall, we offered tutorials to help HLST 110 students prepare for their midterm and final exams, and peer-feedback sessions for HLST 310 students’ creative projects,” she said.

“The winter term syllabi changed again; HLST 110 switched from exams to assignments, and HLST 210 was also assignment-focused. To reflect this, we instead came up with our Nights Against Procrastination series, where we hosted virtual drop-in sessions. We held an Honours Information and Careers in Health Studies Information event. We also designed and sold apparel to give students a sense of community, even while studying remotely. Finally, we chose to congratulate our graduating class by creating and mailing handwritten cards to HLST students.”

In addition to her roles with the HSSS, Silverberg volunteered at the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU) Women’s Centre, as well as on research projects in the Department of Psychology and the Department of Biology, eventually working as a research assistant as well as a teaching assistant. This year, she was a runner-up for an award from the Council of Canadian Departments of Psychology (CCDP) for outstanding work as a teaching assistant.

Silverberg also completed an honours thesis as part of her degree, through which she explored social workers’ experiences with substitute decision-makers of vulnerable adults who were not acting in accordance with provincial legal guidelines for making ethical decisions for others.

“My supervisor, Dr. Lilian Thorpe, and I worked together to develop a novel study that acted as a pilot study for future, more extensive projects,” she said.

This summer, Silverberg plans to continue her involvement in ongoing research projects. As she closes the chapter of one degree and prepares to begin another, Silverberg has some advice for students who are just beginning their studies at USask.

“My biggest piece of advice is to step out of your comfort box and join campus groups or extracurricular activities. Not only is it a great way to make strong relationships with your peers, but it will also open doors to opportunities that you otherwise might not even realize exist,” she said.

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