Katelyn Verstraten graduated from UBC School of Journalism in 2014 and immediately moved to Toronto to start her internship with the Toronto Star.
Verstraten was also part of the award-winning team behind Million Dollar Meds, a multimedia documentary series looking at the cost of drugs for rare diseases. The project was led by UBC Journalism Associate Professor Peter Klein in collaboration with journalist Gary Marcuse and Professor Larry Lynd of the Pharmaceutical Sciences Department. The series was produced by faculty and alumni as part of a five-year initiative by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research’s New Emerging Team for Rare Diseases. Verstraten is also a past recipient of the Fellowship at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.
How did your j-school experience help you transition into a career in journalism?
J-school opened up every door imaginable for me. Internships with the Vancouver Sun and the Globe and Mail while I was a student gave me the credentials to land an internship with the Toronto Star, which led to my current job at CTV News. I don’t know how I would have entered such a competitive industry without the help of the School of Journalism.
Of the lessons you learned at UBC, which one has proven to be the most valuable?
There have been so many lessons – but the j-school really taught me how to find and tell a good story, one that sets your reporting apart from the crowd. Classes such as Reporting in Indigenous Communities with Duncan McCue and the International Reporting Program led by Peter Klein were particularly amazing “in the field” experiences that showed me the type of journalist I wanted to be, and the stories I wanted to tell.
What’s been the piece of journalism you’ve produced of which you’re most proud?
Winning the 2016 Jack Webster Award for Science, Technology, Health & Environment for the Million Dollar Medications project has been the proudest achievement of my professional life, by far. My part of the project focused on the million dollar drug Kalydeco, which was considered a miracle drug for people living with a rare and deadly form of cystic fibrosis. At the time of my project, the nearly $400,000 a year drug wasn’t covered in B.C. for patients who could benefit from it. Shortly after my piece was published in the Globe and Mail as a folio spread and with two videos online, the drug became available to patients. While winning the award for the project was incredible, seeing the life-changing impact my work could have on people and policy was the most inspiring aspect, and showed me first hand the difference we can make with our work.
Would you recommend the j-school to aspiring journalists?
I absolutely would. Not only is it world-class journalism training, but it’s a foot in the door in a competitive industry. And it was a lot of fun!
Any word of advice to students?
Never let anyone limit what you think you can do with your career. There will always be people who are pessimistic, but a positive attitude and a tonne of perseverance and passion will get you very far.