Student Spotlight: Higinio Fernández-Sánchez, recipient of the 2019-2020 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship

Doctoral student at the Faculty of Nursing is one of the recipients of the highly competitive graduate scholarship awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

22 June 2020

The prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship is awarded to the proverbial best and brightest, top graduate students who have demonstrated strong leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement throughout their graduate studies. For Higinio Fernandez-Sanchez, a second year PhD student at University of Alberta’s Faculty of Nursing, this scholarship will enable him to discover the impact of gender intersections across transnational spaces on women’s health. 

Fernández-Sánchez became a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) during his senior year in highschool and fell in love with the profession of nursing. After watching the teamwork of LVNs (Licensed Vocational Nurses), RNs, and NPs caring for vulnerable populations, he knew he would make caring for people’s well being a cornerstone of his career. As a Mexican Registered Nurse, with an Associate degree in Science of Arts from Tyler Community College (USA), a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (Universidad Veracruzana), and a Master's degree in Nursing (Universidad Veracruzana), Fernández-Sánchez is a true global citizen with over seven years of nursing experience in direct clinical practice, undergraduate nursing education, and nursing research. 

What inspired you to pursue your PhD?

I wanted to do research that was meaningful to the communities where I’ve lived and completing a PhD in Nursing would give me tools to achieve this goal. Most importantly, my deceased partner, Luis Felipe, passed away shortly before I began the PhD program. Luis was a strong believer that I could achieve great things, like being admitted into this PhD program. I am sure that he is excited and proud of me for receiving the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship

Can you explain more in-depth what your doctoral work examines?

Over the summer last year, I completed a review of the literature on left-behind women, women who stay in their country of origin while their partners migrate across international borders. I discovered that there is an important gap on what happens after the return of the migrant partners. Based on these findings, my doctoral work seeks to explore the intersecting vectors, including health, of formerly left-behind Mexican women and their returning migrant partners. This is particularly important as deportation of Mexican nationals from the United States continues to rise. Furthermore, the Department of Health in Mexico has found a relation between women with sexually transmitted diseases (i.e. HIV) and having a migrant partner. 

What motivated you to pursue this research?

My interest is rooted in my life experiences. I grew-up in the United States as an immigrant myself. Through my high school years, I was actively involved in immigrant rights in my city. After moving to Mexico for ten years, I became aware of the constant violation to women’s rights. There, I was also involved in non-profit organizations that helped women who had experienced sexual and/or domestic violence. Finally, my work as a RN in the emergency room in one of the hospitals in Mexico, I came across a family (mom, dad, and three kids), where the dad was a returning migrant with HIV, had passed it onto his wife and youngest child; the three of them perished as a result. I knew something had to be done to address this. 

When you first found out you were one of the recipients of this prestigious scholarship, what was your first thought?  

OMG!!! I better double-check this is correct! (heart pounding and hands shaking.)

What do you hope to achieve by the end of three years with the help of this scholarship? 

First, I hope that I have completed my research within this time frame. Second and most importantly, I hope that my research helps to inform practice and policy in terms of reunification and reintegration of transnational families in Mexico in collaboration with the US and Canada. Third, I hope to make everyone proud with the work that I’ve done, including my amazing supervisors, Dr. Bukola Salami and Dr. Jordana Salma. 

What are your academic aspirations for the future?  

Becoming a tenure track in a research-intensive university. I plan to continue to build my research career in the areas of women’s health and migration.