School of Public Health alumnus aims to shift the research paradigm through community engagement

Taylor Cromarty (MSc ‘20) discusses the firsthand impact and value of community-driven research approaches in marginalized communities.

Taylor Cromarty (MSc ‘20) started his undergraduate degree with the intention of pursuing an MD. A bacterial pathogenesis course later, those long-standing plans changed. “It was like a puzzle piece clicking into place. I thought ‘Eureka! That’s it. That’s what I’ve been wanting to do my entire life,’” said Cromarty, leading him to enroll in a master of science in epidemiology at the School of Public Health. 

His special interest in disease and disease transmission was sparked during his childhood. Born prematurely at 26 weeks with a host of medical conditions, Cromarty’s home was stocked with medical textbooks and other reference resources by his parents. “These were some of the first books I grabbed off the shelf,” Cromarty explained. “As I grew up, my interest naturally merged with my desire to help improve the well-being of my community.”

This desire was realized in Cromarty’s thesis research project working with the Canadian North Helicobacter pylori (CANHelp) Working Group.“An epidemiologist’s value is that you can go where you are needed and accomplish the research interests of communities,” he shared. In collaboration with community leaders and health care providers in the Northwest Territories and Yukon, Cromarty’s research addresses concerns voiced in participating CANHelp community projects about the effect of socioeconomic deprivation on the prevalence of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection. 

H. pylori bacteria infects the human stomach lining, causing chronic infections. Severity of these infections depends on the person. Although it is typically asymptomatic, H. pylori-induced gastric disease increases the risk of stomach cancer. The CANHelp Working Group works with communities in the Northwest Territories and Yukon to address the high levels of concern about health risks from H. pylori infection. 

According to Cromarty, such community-driven research approaches led in collaboration with members of marginalized communities are becoming the standard, not the exception. “I’m trans, and it probably won’t surprise you to hear that research was something once done to us, if at all, and never with members of our community helming it,” he shared. “But the paradigm is shifting. I know firsthand the value of community-driven research led by community stakeholders, and I’m happy to support it in any context.”

Cromarty believes that contemporary public health research contextualizes disease and disease transmission making it accessible, understandable, and relevant to the affected community members. When asked why he thinks public health is important, Cromarty stated that it’s self-evident: “Public health education gives one the tools to understand the health of themselves and others in their community. It’s always been important, and recent events have only highlighted that.” 

From the courses to the connections he made, Cromarty looks back on the past few years with fondness. “The Pride events at the School of Public Health were particularly meaningful to me. It was the first time I discovered I could be my authentic self and still pursue my career path.” 

Having discovered a love for teaching and a fascination with modern epidemiologic methods, Cromarty is currently pursuing a PhD in the Department of Medicine at the University of Alberta in the hopes of becoming a professor of medicine.


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