Providence Research Profiles: Dr. Kate Salters

This month, we are profiling Dr. Kate Salters, a research scientist at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul’s Hospital (BC-CfE) and an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

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Kate Salters

In an effort to shine a light on our many notable researchers, Providence Research is profiling the careers of those who work within our inspiring research community. This month, we are profiling Dr. Kate Salters, a research scientist at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul’s Hospital (BC-CfE) and an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University (SFU). Her research focuses on how to improve health outcomes and health care engagement for people living with HIV and hepatitis C.

She is among the scientists at the BC-CfE involved in the recently announced collaboration between the BC-CfE, the BC Centre for Disease Control, and the provincial government to advance B.C.’s goal of eliminating hepatitis C as a public health threat by 2030. Chronic hepatitis C, a liver infection caused by the HCV virus, can lead to serious health problems including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death.

Improving health outcomes and services for people with hepatitis C, HIV

After working as an international health consultant and sexual health educator, Dr. Salters originally joined the BC-CfE as a research coordinator in 2011. She was mentored there by BC-CfE senior research scientist Dr. Robert Hogg. In 2013, she pursued a PhD in health services with a focus on epidemiology at SFU, supervised by Dr. Hogg and Dr. Angela Kaida. Following that, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Ann Burchell at St. Michael’s Hospital, where she led research that investigated HPV among people living with HIV.

In late 2018, she was recruited back into the BC-CfE, this time as a research scientist. In this role, she was tasked with leading the BC-CfE’s Viral Hepatitis Research Program, and has grown the program to focus on improving health outcomes and health services for people living with and vulnerable to HIV and Hepatitis C. The epidemiological research she conducts often focuses on the intersections between hepatitis C, HIV, and mental health and substance use disorders.

She is motivated by the ability to share her team’s results and findings with both the academic and non-academic communities. She leads the BC-CfE’s long-running knowledge translation and community engagement series Snack Chat, where health researchers bring food and present their research to those involved. She is passionate about bringing research back to communities who participate in research but often do not get see the results.

Dr. Salters appreciates her position as someone who has the privilege of doing this research, especially as a woman in a STEM field. She acknowledges how fortunate she is to have wonderful mentors who have helped her navigate and learn how to do action-oriented, engaged research.

Exploring connections between research, harm reduction and advocacy

Much of Dr. Salters’ most recent research has involved looking at the role of harm reduction services in transforming health care engagement. She is passionate about the significant roles that advocacy and community engagement play in infectious disease health services research.

“Working in the field of HIV, you learn very quickly the value of community engagement and advocacy. It kind of switched my perspective from research as something that is purely academic, to research as something that is about activism and action,” says Dr. Salters.

One of her recent projects, which received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, looked at how to improve connections to health care for people who use drugs, a demographic that hepatitis C disproportionally impacts. While people who use drugs are frequently tested for hepatitis C, they face significant barriers to actually accessing life-saving treatment.

“How do we move beyond just testing priority populations for infectious conditions, and eventually move to understanding how we can better engage them safely and effectively in health care that works for them? That, I think, is a real interest and passion point for me,” says Dr. Salters.

This is where harm reduction can play a role in health care engagement. People who use drugs, who may be hesitant to go to a primary care clinic or a family doctor’s office to receive care, may be more inclined to receive care at a supervised consumption or harm reduction site.

The goal of Dr. Salters’ research is to affect real change, such as increasing the scope of clinical care in harm reduction settings, advocating for new and novel harm reduction interventions that better respond to the needs of the community, and better connecting people to health care and life-saving treatments.

“Instead of thinking of health care as one thing, sexual health as another, and harm reduction as yet another, I think we need to build a new framework for how and what healthcare looks like that is designed with the realities and the priorities of the people we serve in mind,” says Dr. Salters.