Health Sciences producing ready grads

The best testimony as to whether a program works or not is to see the end result. Christine Knaus, soon to be a graduate of the University's Faculty of Health Sciences Public Health program, is that end result – and yes, the program does work.

Knaus, who is set to convocate this spring, is already employed as an infection control practitioner with Alberta Health Services (AHS), having turned her practicum placement into a full-time job. The only downside is that she now has to finish her Registered Nurse designation online.

"I would have loved to finish my nursing training at the U of L too but because they did such a good job training me, I got a job right out of school and couldn't come back," laughs Knaus, the AHS infection control site lead for the southwestern portion of the province.

Christine Knaus
Infection control practitioner Christine Knaus assists Faculty of Health Sciences Dean Dr. Chris Hosgood in demonstrating proper gowning techniques.

Knaus started her post-secondary career at Lethbridge College, taking two years of nursing. Her interests however were in the public health portion of the program. When the University debuted its public health degree, she jumped at the opportunity to pursue her passion.

"When this program opened, it was the right time to move into it," says Knaus, a native of Lanigan, Saskatchewan. "I enjoyed nursing but public health allowed me to help those people who are not yet in hospital to be healthy and prevent them from future visits to the hospital."

She and her classmates reveled in the opportunities afforded them with a brand new program, including the chance to shape how it would be delivered.

"Because there were so few of us we really got to give a lot of input into curriculum, what was working and what wasn't working," she says. "We were often referred to as the guinea pigs of the program. It was a trial but we got an amazing education because they did a great job of finding classes for us and even making classes that would help us as practitioners in the public health field."

Knaus credits the faculty for engaging its students in discussions about classes, the hiring of professors and the program's delivery. In fact, as the first group neared completion of the program, they lobbied for change to one of its most difficult, and what they deemed impractical, courses. It was subsequently changed to better serve future students.

"That's one of the aspects I give the Faculty of Health Sciences so much credit for," says Knaus. "When you give them feedback, they take it seriously and you always feel as though you're a part of the decision-making."

Knaus excels in such an environment. She grew up admiring her grandmother's efforts in changing the world through volunteerism in a family that championed the ideal of being an active part of your community and given the chance, grasped the opportunity to take control of her education. In 2010, she was the only undergraduate student who had an abstract accepted to the Canadian Society for Epidemiology and Biostatistics Student Conference, and she developed a stroke resource guide for patients and caregivers that is now being implemented in facilities in both Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Her practicum placement allowed her the chance to work under Dr. Vivien Suttorp, the medical officer of health at Alberta Health Services.

"I learned so much in that role," says Knaus. "I was thrown right into the position, and got to go with environmental public health to see things such as hoarding houses, water leaks at various facilities, review environmental services cleaning at Chinook Regional Hospital, it really took me everywhere. And it was essentially my practicum that got me my current job with AHS."

As an infection control practitioner, Knaus says she is a resource for hospitals.

"Any time there is an outbreak in a hospital or an Alberta Health Services facility, we assist with that. Infection control is dedicated to the prevention of healthcare-associated infections. Practitioners use surveillance to improve patient outcomes. We focus on reducing the transmission of microbes through patient care practices, sterilization, disinfection cleaning, outbreak management and environmental design, and the most important being hand hygiene."

Knaus accepts her role as a pioneer of the program, and wants to continue to shape its future. She comes back to campus to speak to current students and eyes returning as a master's student and possible lecturer.

"I would like to end up teaching here at some point, maybe an evening class or two," she says. "My professors played such a big role impacting my life and inspiring me, I'd really like to give that back to the next generation of students."


· In 2011, Knaus was nominated for the City of Lethbridge Leaders of Tomorrow Award

· She has two younger brothers (one who attends University of Saskatchewan and another in high school) as well as a younger sister

· Knaus does not want to single out any specific professors because, "They were all so good to me, and although they taught us a lot to do with school, they also taught us so much in terms of life lessons."

· Knaus was co-president of the Public Health Students Association and was co-Chair for the Health Sciences Haiti Benefit earthquake fundraiser that raised over $5,000

· She coaches pee wee and bantam level female hockey, and is currently working on developing a summer hockey school program designed to give access to those who could not otherwise afford to participate

This story first appeared in the February 2012 edition of The Legend. To view the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.