Keith King may not have originally intended to follow their mother and grandmother into nursing, but they wound up dedicating their life to researching and providing care in a variety of health settings.

King (Certificate of University Transfer, Bachelor of Science in Nursing ‘02, University Transfer, Bachelor of Science ‘00) grew up in northern Alberta, on a farm north of Manning. 

They chose to begin their educational journey at MacEwan because of the familiarity of the small class sizes, taking a university transfer to the University of Alberta. Once they finished their science degree, King was swayed by a friend to try their hand at nursing.

Their upbringing had already given them a foothold in some aspects of the healthcare field. They grew up in hospital hallways, waiting for their mother’s shift to end to get a ride home. But they also learned practical skills, becoming certified in CPR by age 10. “My mom was a CPR instructor, so she would practice teaching on her kids,” says King.

“Coming back to MacEwan for nursing really felt like coming home,” King says. “Because it’s a smaller university, there was more of that human element. I learned to better relate to people.”

King began their career in mental health nursing, working in various roles throughout Edmonton before heading to Australia to get their master’s degree in public health and epidemiology.

“I started getting involved with some community groups and the Western Australia AIDS Society. As a queer person who grew up in the ‘80s and ’90s when AIDS was pretty much destroying our community, I felt like I needed to give something back,” says King.

Their involvement with the organization inspired them to change their career trajectory and focus on sexual health. Partway through their studies, they left Australia, working in Toronto before moving to England. For their first year in the UK, King worked in community nursing and homecare while continuing to work on their master’s.

“Then I finally got a dream job. I was an STBBI (sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections) nurse for a mental health trust in East London, where we provided HIV and hepatitis services to people with mental health concerns.”

When King received a grant for their master’s research, they started a pilot program doing health and sexual health screenings for people with serious and persistent mental illness. They set up nurse-led clinics in community mental health centres and did health checks, including STBBI screenings. “I found that there were very high rates of HIV, hepatitis and other STIs in that population, so I started designing a PhD study to see what could be done about it,” says King.

“I’m really proud of that work because it was something novel, and it definitely changed the trajectory in a lot of people’s lives who didn’t know that they had an infection and may not have gotten tested until it was too late.

Following a political shift in the UK, King returned to Canada and shifted the focus of their PhD, too. “My PhD research is in HPV-related cancer prevention,” says King, an assistant teaching professor at the U of A in the Faculty of Nursing. They’re Métis on their mother’s side, and looked to their community while initializing their research. “There’s never been any research on HPV vaccination in Métis communities, so I saw a gap there. We now know that we have slightly higher rates of those infections and poorer cancer outcomes in our community. It seemed like a good time to do something about it.”

Since returning to Canada, King has sat on the Alumni Council at the U of A. They volunteer with the Edmonton 2 Spirit Society, working on improving the role that two-spirit individuals play in the community as well as working on building shelter and transitional housing for those in need.

They also sat on the board of the Alberta Pain Society, where they helped to develop the Alberta Pain Strategy, which helps to inform and provide management options for those living with acute and chronic pain. The strategy brings together diverse stakeholders from community and healthcare, and is the first of its kind in the province. 

When COVID hit, King became heavily involved with the Métis Nation of Alberta, providing COVID and vaccine education through the pandemic as well as helping to organize Canada’s first Métis-led vaccine clinic.

“Volunteerism was sort of seeded in me as a little kid and it’s carried on throughout my career. It’s really enriched my life. I’ve met so many amazing people, and been able to do things that I would never have been able to do if I wasn’t volunteering. You get back far more than you give.”

When they were informed that they’d received the Distinguished Alumni Award in the spring, King was overwhelmed. “I was shocked and honoured, and also very humbled. Especially when I saw the other recipients and their amazing accomplishments. I was also really grateful. I know how much work goes into putting together a nomination, and I just felt this wave of love. It was really powerful.”

Watch King's Convocation Address and Alumni Welcome speeches from the Fall 2022 Convocation ceremony in the videos below.


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