Student Spotlight July 2023

    Tiffany Bystra is a master's student studying Social Work. She graduated from Western Michigan University with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Health Services as well as an MS in Occupational Therapy. 


    Q: What brought you to the University of Louisville?

    A: I was immediately drawn to the psychosocial oncology concentration. My initial intention was to take classes out of curiosity because I was already practicing in cancer care/rehabilitation at the time. I intended to further my knowledge for myself and my patients to become a better clinician, however it didn't take me long to acknowledge that I belonged at University of Louisville in a more invested fashion. After the first class or two, I made a commitment to continue forward with classes with the hopes of attaining the MSSW degree. The University of Louisville has been an excellent fit for me with regards to flexibility of schedule, rigor of content, and applicability to my specific interest in serving the oncology population.

    Q: What is your specific area of research and why does it interest you?

    A: I am interested in best practices in cancer care, psychosocial and mental health service delivery, illness narratives, history of medicine, as well as ethical issues in cancer care. I had the great fortune of taking a Research Methodology course with Dr. Dowdy and I communicated from the start that I'd be interested in taking the literature review project and turning it into a form of scholarship beyond the classroom. I felt supported in my research efforts and was thrilled to subsequently present a poster on "Narrative Approaches with the Oncology Population: A Review of the Literature and Potential Effects on Mental Health" at the Association of Oncology Social Work in New Orleans, LA this summer. It felt like a full circle moment as my practicum placement was with the Cancer Support Community, and I got to meet some colleagues from my practicum in-person for the first time at the conference. 

    Q: What made you go into this field of study?

    A: I grew interested in social work's role after being a care recipient from several social workers during a cancer diagnosis in my early 20's. They were incredible at meeting me where I was at (on the toughest and most celebratory days), added a unique value to my cancer care experience, and I could see so much of myself in their practices. As a result, I grew interested in growing my career to include a social work skillset in addition to my occupational therapy skillset.

    Q: What are you long term goals and aspirations?

    A: Starting this Fall of 2023, I'll be starting a Ph.D. program in Bioethics and Health Humanities. While I'll be putting my MSSW progression on momentary pause, I feel grateful for how the program has evoked my curiosity in several domains and made me think critically about issues that impact cancer care delivery. Having been a patient, a healthcare provider, as well as an educator, I have a number of long-term goals that I'd love to see to fruition. My aspiration are to inform ethical systems of care, further fostering an ethos of shared-decision making, beneficence, and moral duty to those seeking care. I hope to stoke a culture of flourishing for healthcare providers, challenging barriers to what has inhibited care from being anything less than supportive, superior, and safe. Additionally, I hope to educate and empower students of health and helping professions to revel in their altruistic positioning. 

    Q: What accomplishment, academic or otherwise, are you most proud of?

    A: I am proud of being a first-generation student. I am also proud of the courage that it's take to use my own personal cancer experience as fuel to the flame in striving to understand what it take to improve our systems of care delivery.

    Q: What has been your favorite part of the graduate school experience at UofL?

    A: I absolutely loved my practicum experience with the Cancer Support Community. I provided support on their HelpLine and helped connect cancer patients, their loved ones, and professionals to needed resources and supports across the care continuum. This experience allowed my knowledge (and curiosity of further questions) to blossom and I've made friends (and co-workers, they've kept me on!) that will last a lifetime.

    Fun Facts

    A talent you have always wanted: I play the violin and piano, however if I had to go back and do it all over again, I wish I learned the cello as well. 

    Favorite quote: "Family pathology rolls from generation to generation like a fire in the woods, taking down everything in its path, until one person in the generation has the courage to turn and face the flames. That person brings peace to his ancestors and spares the children that follow." -Terry Real