Three months in, Noorjean Hassam talks about her role as UBC's chief student health officer

Noorjean Hassam has been serving as UBC’s first-ever chief student health officer since the beginning of summer.

Hassam’s appointment was first announced in an email sent to staff in the VP Students office in April, but was recently highlighted in a July 22 press release related to a return to in-person classes. As chief student health officer, Hassam oversees student health services and works to implement health-related strategies in UBC’s strategic plans.

“A friendly face ready to welcome students to campus is Noorjean Hassam, who has been appointed to the newly created role of chief student health officer,” the release reads.

This press release comes after the AMS sent a letter to UBC asking for stronger mask and vaccine requirements on campus, a request that UBC has since rejected.

Hassam, who started as the chief student health officer in May, previously served as chief operating officer of the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) for seven years and worked for the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) for 18 years.

“I’ve been looking really deeply at the health services at UBC and I’m really impressed with the breadth of health services that we offer, everything from prevention and health promotion all the way to specialist care, and all the things in between,” said Hassam in an interview with The Ubyssey.

“I’ve also compared UBC to other universities across Canada and across the United States and even internationally, and this role is such a new, cutting-edge role within the universities.”

Hassam aims to address student concerns around COVID-19 on campus by helping them understand the transition from living in a pandemic to living with a communicable disease. She will also stress that the public health system in BC will continue monitoring COVID-19 closely.

Hassam also highlighted the problem of misinformation around COVID-19, advising students to educate themselves using only credible sources such as the BCCDC, the Ministry of Health, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the regional health authorities.

“I think that’s gonna be a big part of [helping ease student’s COVID concerns] … trying to stay on top of misinformation and communicating proactively would be really, really helpful” she said.

Hassam will also work to ensure that students can easily choose between accessing health services in person and online from the day they return to campus.

Along with COVID-19, Hassam will focus on improving mental health literacy on campus, especially because students might be experiencing additional stress and anxiety resulting from COVID-19. In order to achieve this, she is helping create an extra resource that may include workshops and toolkits to complement the normal mental health programming in UBC.

“Everybody’s been affected by the pandemic and when people come back to school and start to connect and resume normal lives …. If there’s any stress of anxiety or fear that comes out of that, we wanna be able to support students,” said Hassam.

To support both the physical and mental health of students, the Health Education and Promotion unit, the Counselling Services unit and the Student Health Services unit will all work together to properly inform students about the different resources and services available to them.

“When you come back to campus … you have to do what feels safe for you, right? Like, if you feel like wearing a mask, you should feel comfortable wearing a mask, there’s no stigma around that,” said Hassam.

“But you also have to tend to your own mental health, get those connections back … start to feel that sense of community and belonging because that’s just as important.”