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"John" ChangHao Zhao will be graduating with his Bachelor of Arts and Science (BA&Sc) degree (Honours) in health studies. (Submitted photo)

USask graduate tailored degree to fit passion for healthcare

“John” ChangHao Zhao will receive the University Medal in the BA&Sc Degree during Spring Convocation


By Kristen McEwen

University of Saskatchewan (USask) student “John” ChangHao Zhao’s interest in holistic health helped him decide which path to choose at the College of Arts and Science.

Zhao will be graduating with his Bachelor of Arts and Science (BA&Sc) degree (Honours) in health studies at the USask Spring Convocation at Merlis Belsher Place on June 4. He will also receive the University Medal in the BA&Sc Degree.

“I have always been passionate about health, and I want to pursue a career in health care,” he said. “I think it’s so important to get a holistic view on what health means and how we can address different issues.”

Health studies encompassed his interests because it is an interdisciplinary degree, Zhao said. The subject area combines traditional Western medicine, but also touches on psychological health, sociology, and environmental sides of health.

The degree had some flexibility in terms of the classes Zhao took to meet the degree criteria.

“I could take what classes I wanted to take,” he said. “If I’m interested in neuroscience, I could take neuroscience classes. The options and flexibility are another bonus.”

Zhao grew up in Saskatoon, which made taking classes at USask an easy decision to make. Living at home and going to university in the same city saved him the headache of finding an affordable place to live and helped save on the cost of living. Having friends attending the same campus made it easier to join the USask community.

“We do have one of the most beautiful campuses in Canada, maybe even the whole world,” Zhao said.

Zhao started at USask during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The first year-and-a-half of classes were online, which made it challenging to stay engaged in course work and the campus community.

“I really enjoyed it when we came back to campus and I got to experience what it’s like to be on campus, and interact with people,” he said. “One of the best things I found about USask was the community and the people in it.”

The support and kindness Zhao experienced on campus extended to his courses and pursuing an honours degree in the Department of Psychology and Health Studies.

His honours project focused on investigating the impact of nostalgia memory and its effect on levels of death anxiety in post-secondary students and older adults.

Because his project included a sensitive subject, “death anxiety”—anxiety experienced because of the thought of death—and involved older adults, his project required navigating a few extra steps. It involved a comprehensive review by the Research Ethics Board to approve his research. Zhao credits his supervisor, St. Thomas More College sessional lecturer Dr. David Lane (PhD), his colleagues, as well as the research ethics office for their support that led to a successful ethics application.

“Basically, the idea was that nostalgia serves a lot of psychological benefits,” Zhao said. “It could improve a mood. It could help you find a purpose in life. It could remind you of people not in your life anymore. But usually they’re fond memories.”

He added that while there have been studies that explore the impact of nostalgia on levels of death anxiety, none of them feature older adults.”

Older adults have been thought to experience lower levels of death anxiety, but some research suggest the opposite, depending on an individual’s environment and the amount and type of media consumed. In theory, nostalgia could impact how people feel and lower their levels of death anxiety. Zhao’s research had a limited population sample size, which did not result in statistically significant effects.

Zhao plans to continue his research while working for his honours supervisor during the summer and upcoming fall semester. He plans on applying to medical school in the new year.

Zhao had a piece of advice to share with students new to USask.

“There’s a famous quote that says, ‘The journey sometimes matters more than the destination,’” he said. “I realize that as well because sometimes I do find myself prioritizing schoolwork over things like social experiences or having fun in general.

“I definitely recommend new students to get involved more with the community and also maintain a good work-life balance.”

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