Kimberly Fairman works to build momentum in community health

SPH adjunct professor joins CRCC as a member of the Indigenous Leadership Circle in Research

Tarwinder Rai - 31 May 2022

After graduating from the University of Alberta master's program in public health, health promotion, Kimberly Fairman wanted to stay connected to the School of Public Health. Witnessing the commitment that faculty and staff had towards students, she started looking for opportunities to stay involved. 

Fairman joined the school as an adjunct professor, where she uses her research and expertise in community health to influence changes in public health policy . 

“I felt that as an Indigenous northern graduate, I may be able to encourage or support others to pursue a degree,” says Fairman. “It is essential to have a diverse team involved in the design and delivery of curriculum in order for the content to reflect real world views.”

Fairman is also the executive director of the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research. She is involved in the Network Environment for Indigenous Health Research Grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), which is co-led by the Indigenous elders in the Northwest Territories.And most recently, she became a member of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee’s (CRCC) Indigenous Leadership Circle in Research — created to ensure that any newly developed models for Indigenous research and research training be informed by First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples.

Fairman shares where her passion for community health began, her views on the importance of creating community-centred research, and the impact the CRCC Indigenous Leadership Circle will make.

Where did you begin your career?

I began my career as a registered nurse in a regional hospital in the Northwest Territories. I moved on to spend several years in the federal government in progressively senior positions working in the three northern territories. This policy and program work was primarily focused on community development. I transitioned into health research when I took on the role of executive director for the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research in 2017. In 2021, I completed a master’s of public health in health promotion at the University of Alberta. 

What made you decide to pursue a master’s degree in public health?

While working in the area of community-based research, I saw the master’s degree in public health as an opportunity to study in a similar field. Community-based research and health promotion share many of the same principles. In both disciplines, there is a focus on reorienting practice to the community’s needs. This focus allows us to empower community members and create supportive environments. Hopefully, by developing my own skills in this area, I will influence health policy through my research. I can do all of this in the place where I feel most at home, in the communities of the circumpolar world.

What do you love about the profession?

I love that I am constantly learning. It is challenging to listen actively and think creatively about how to incorporate diverse views. The work can feel overwhelming but it is very rewarding. I love meeting new people with passionate views about public health. The issues are complex and in many cases, I am working with a multidisciplinary team. It feels like I am contributing to something meaningful.

What makes you feel proud about being an alumna of the School of Public Health?

The University of Alberta has many strengths but it was when the School of Public Health demonstrated leadership and foresight to reach out to northern communities and potential students, highlighting their virtual offerings at the graduate level, that I became interested in pursuing graduate studies. Their programs offer flexibility for students with different realities and contexts and by partnering with community organizations they are able to support students and enrich their experience in the program. The school has globally recognized researchers and graduates who become part of your network.

 How do you integrate the work you do now with your educational background? 

The work I do now involves patients, community members and elders. They have such a deep understanding of public health issues. They know how the system is falling short and they have unique insights into how to improve program delivery. I bring this perspective to my lectures. The authenticity of my voice will encourage learners to approach work and complex issues with an open mind.

What are some of the pathways to improving health among Indigenous Peoples?

Partnerships with Indigenous communities and groups offer us incredible opportunities to transform health research in Canada and globally. Indigenous methods and methodologies are being recognized as essential tools to improve research and health outcomes for Indigenous people. There are many initiatives past, current and ongoing (TRC, UNDRIP legislation) that focus on self-determination, reconciliation and the upholding of Indigenous languages, cultures and ways of life. Individuals in all areas of research, health program and service delivery and health education should reflect on their reasons for getting involved or staying involved in efforts to restore health for Indigenous people. 

What is your motivation behind joining the research circle?

My children and grandchildren need and deserve health research that reflects their context. My wider circle of family, friends and colleagues have insights and the willingness to be involved. Their involvement will improve health outcomes exponentially for generations that come after us. I want to ensure those voices are amplified. Having research objectives and initiatives that carry the strength of the community will give us the direction we need and will be a catalyst for better outcomes for Indigenous people seeking support from health systems.

What does it mean to you to be a member of this committee?

I feel very proud to be part of this prestigious group of Indigenous leaders. It was an honour to be selected for this committee. I hope to reflect on the teachings of my elders and ancestors in my interactions with the committee. I am looking forward to learning and sharing with my colleagues while strengthening my own research practice.  

What are you hoping to see as a result/outcome of this committee?

Indigenous ways of knowing and Indigenous methodologies can provide guidance in terms of the steps toward improving complex global health issues. The complex issues we face in public health include social, economic and environmental drivers that need to be considered in our strategies. Indigenous values recognize the interconnected nature of our paths and make decisions that consider the implications for generations of people. 

Where do you hope to see the committee make the biggest impact?

My main goal is to see strengthened relationships at the national level. These relationships will be key to strategic investments of time and resources across many sectors. I know that, as a group, we will create space for Indigenous research and researchers in their own right while contributing to broader research objectives nationally and globally.