News at Medicine - June 2022 - 'The obvious choice'

'The obvious choice'
June 2, 2022

Valerie Webber's path to Memorial's Faculty of Medicine began in the humanities.

Having studied medical anthropology in their MA program at McGill University, Webber's focus shifted to public health at Memorial.


Their studies at Memorial began with the Master of Public Health program in the Faculty of Medicine. "I was attracted to Memorial for the intensive, comprehensive, and practicum-based MPH," Webber said.

The varied backgrounds and expertise in the Division of Community Health and Humanities drew them to the program, said Webber, who collected a PhD in community health and humanities on Wednesday.

"I was also really intrigued by the CHH unit and how it brings people together from a variety of health perspectives: bioethicists, epidemiologists, medical anthropologists, and so on," they said. "Memorial became the obvious choice."

'A wonderful overall experience'

"During that degree, I really connected with Dr. Fern Brunger, who would go on to be my PhD supervisor," Webber said of their MPH work.

220513-Valerie-Webber-1490-(1).jpgBoth Webber and Brunger have a background in medical anthropology. They also share an interest in work that is practically and politically relevant. Brunger's approach to academics, her mentorship style and support of their proposed project were a great match, they said.

Webber's dissertation looked at occupational health and pornography production.

"I approach the subject from a sex worker rights perspective that recognizes and celebrates the community health practices and epistemological contributions generated by sex workers, rather than seeing sex work as a 'problem' or a 'risk factor' to be solved, as is often the case in public health research," they said.

At Memorial, Webber was out about their own involvement in adult film. They knew Brunger fully supported their work. However, they expected other resistance or even hostility, they said, based on colleagues' experiences elsewhere. Thankfully, Webber's experience at Memorial has been positive.

"Everyone at Memorial, from ICEHR, to SGS and RGS, to my classmates, staff and faculty in the division, has always offered support and appreciation to me and the work I'm doing," they said. "That trust and respect has granted me a wonderful overall experience."

Fighting for marginalized communities

Webber missed their two Master's convocations because they had already moved out of the province. They're excited to mark this accomplishment and time of their PhD at Memorial's spring convocation.

"The thought of also missing this one because of COVID was really disheartening, especially since PhD convocations come with the best outfits," they said. "So I am really grateful that it will be going ahead."

Next up for Webber is a postdoctoral fellowship at the Sexual Health and Gender Research Lab at Dalhousie University. They will also continue their work as board chair of PASS, a non-profit dedicated to occupational health in the adult industry.

Webber's work coordinates scholarship, advocacy and policy making that resists the ongoing backlash against marginalized groups in society. 

"There is currently a very aggressive, coordinated attack against sex workers, queer folks and other communities who are marginalized because of their sexuality, gender and relationship styles," they said. "I want to keep pursuing research that serves these groups."