New grad course advances local health research

By Suzanne Smith

NursingYeung, Beck and Barclay at Victoria General Hospital.

When a child ends up in intensive care, they’re not the only ones who need attention. This is also a very distressing time for their parents. Thanks to a new hands-on research course at UVic, psychology graduate student Rachel Yeung has helped the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) begin identifying effective care-giving strategies for parents whose children have been admitted to intensive care.

Last year Rachel Yeung and six other graduate students enrolled in Practicum in Applied Health Research and Knowledge Transfer, an interdisciplinary course facilitated by the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Knowledge Mobilization Unit (an initiative of UVic Research and York University that is funded by SSHRC and CIHR). The course, funded by the BC Child and Youth Health Research Network, was developed as a result of a partnership with the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

“I took this course because I wanted the opportunity to work collaboratively within the community on a project with the potential to be on-going,” explains Yeung. “This experience allowed me to apply my knowledge in research design and methodology to a real-life problem and learn directly from health practitioners working in the field.”

Yeung’s course assignment involved working with Drs. Amanda Barclay and Raphael Beck, two Victoria General Hospital pediatric intensive care doctors—known in the medical community as pediatric intensivists—to develop a needs assessment survey that measured parent satisfaction. The goal of the survey was to assess whether or not the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit, the only service of its kind on Vancouver Island, is currently meeting the needs of parents and children in the region and, if not, what improvements should be made. Specifically the survey was to measure the parent’s degree of satisfaction with the technical skills of the staff, the staff’s ability to keep them informed about their children’s condition, the responsiveness of the staff to the emotional needs of the parents and their children, and the parents’ overall level of satisfaction with the intensive care services.

Yeung conducted an extensive literature review to identify previous measures of parent satisfaction relevant to the questions identified by VIHA and the pediatric intensive care unit. Then, through consultation with Barclay and Beck, she developed other new measures for the survey and developed procedures for administering the survey confidentially within the intensive care unit. VIHA plans to conduct the survey some time this year, and the two pediatric intensivists are pleased with the results. In fact, they have expressed interest in working with Yeung on future research projects.

Course co-instructor Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater (psychology) is thrilled with Yeung’s success and the other impressive achievements of her classmates.

This class is about doing something real that matters to the community. In classes like this the level of responsibility goes up a notch—both for the instructors and for the students. The students’ work isn’t just being graded, it’s being used to help make the world a better place,” says Leadbeater.

Wayne Mitic, director of chronic disease prevention evaluation with the Population Health Division of the Ministry of Health and co-instructor of this course, agrees with Leadbeater.

“This course really exceeded our expectations—we are so proud of the students. A course like this gives students hands-on research knowledge and allows them to work directly with people in the field. This kind of experience can only benefit students when they are seeking employment down the road,” says Mitic.

VIHA is also pleased with the students’ results. Peter Kirk, VIHA’s director of research and academic development, explains that by “building VIHA’s research capacity, the students are helping the organization to conduct more research which will ultimately benefit the people of Vancouver Island.”

Some of the other student research projects included a review of best practices for addressing the problems of youth who are suffering from mental health issues and substance abuse; the production of a questionnaire to measure couples’ awareness of the dangers of alcohol use during pregnancy; and an assessment of a position at Nanaimo General Hospital dedicated to helping facilitate the flow of people from emergency to other parts of the hospital.

A second Practicum in Applied Health Research and Knowledge Transfer will be offered in September 2008.

A course with a similar format also facilitated by the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Knowledge Mobilization Unit will be offered in May 2008. Entitled Special Topics in Applied Research in BC Wildlife, Ecosystems and Parks, it was developed through a partnership with the Environmental Stewardship Division of the BC Ministry of Environment.

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