Undergraduate Spotlight: Carolyn Hoemann

Poised to graduate this Spring, Carolyn Hoemann is an undergraduate student completing her sociology honors thesis under the supervision of Dr. Harkness. In addition to research experience at the University of Iowa College of Public Health and the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Carolyn has successfully developed her own independent research projects during her time at Iowa. Early on in her undergraduate career while studying in China, Carolyn was struck by how illuminating it was to learn about Chinese culture and history from a non-western perspective. Carolyn took this lesson about the power of learning directly from people about their own histories and experiences and applied it to her research, where she highlights the experiences and understandings of patient populations whose perspectives are largely missing in health care research.

In 2017 Carolyn won a fellowship to join the Summer Junior Resident Fellowship Program in Siem Reap, Cambodia through the Center for Khmer Studies.  Over the course of her 6-week stay in Cambodia, Carolyn completed a seminar in Cambodian political culture and history and an independent research project. Carolyn conducted qualitative interviews with young adult Cambodians living in urban areas regarding their attitudes and perceptions towards local reproductive health care services.  Carolyn’s choice to focus on the experiences of young Cambodians was driven by a gap she identified in health care research that focuses almost exclusively on western providers’ understandings of health care systems.

At the end of her fellowship, Carolyn presented her findings at the Center for Khmer Studies, emphasizing the understandings put forth by her interviewees.  In particular, Carolyn noted that many of her Cambodian interviewees spoke of the financial burden of medical care that at times prevented them from accessing care or led to them acquiring substantial medical debt.

Carolyn Hoemann, UI Senior
Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Upon leaving Cambodia, Carolyn found herself wondering how living in a society with universal, public health care might shape the interactions individuals have with the health care system and providers. To explore this question and build off of her international research interests, Carolyn proposed a sociology honors thesis focused on people who use drugs and their experiences accessing reproductive and sexual health care in the UK.  In 2018, Carolyn was awarded the Stanley Undergraduate Award for undergraduate research by the University of Iowa Stanley Foundation to fund her honors thesis research.

Over winter break 2018, Carolyn set off to the UK and spent 4 weeks conducting qualitative interviews with people in a 12-step program.  Carolyn’s interviews focused on how people who use drugs navigate the UK health care system when they are actively using.  Specifically, she was interested in how the economic structure of the health care system and their drug use impacts their interactions with medical professionals and the strategies they develop to navigate the system. Currently, Carolyn is in the process of analyzing her data and presented her findings at the 2018 Iowa Sociological Association Conference.

Upon graduation, Carolyn hopes to continue developing her research skills and pursue graduate work in medical sociology!  

Other articles in this Newsletter