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Meet Nursing's new Assistant Dean, Research

Feb 23, 2017

Michael McGillion 

The School of Nursing at McMaster University has a new Assistant Dean, Research: Dr. Michael McGillion. The appointment comes just as the school is launching an ambitious five-year Strategic Research Plan.

“I am very pleased that Dr. Michael McGillion has agreed to take on the role of Assistant Dean, Research,” says Dr. Carolyn Byrne, Associate Dean of the School of Nursing. “Since coming to McMaster and assuming the Heart and Stroke Foundation/Michael G. DeGroote Endowed Chair in Cardiovascular Nursing in 2013, Dr. McGillion has attracted more than $1.8 million in peer-reviewed funding and more than $14 million in industry support as a principal investigator. Dr. McGillion will lead us in moving the School of Nursing Strategic Research Plan forward.” 

Increase research by faculty members 

The School of Nursing has a history of being one of the most research-intensive schools or faculties of nursing in Canada. “There’s no doubt we have major successes to celebrate and a strong track record, but there are real challenges ahead that face not only all schools of nursing but all faculties of health sciences in the country,” says McGillion. “These include fiscal constraints among granting agencies, and how best to support junior investigators in such a competitive landscape. We need to be able to be on the forefront of addressing these challenges, which requires us to have a clear plan and a position dedicated to realizing our continued success.” 

McGillion will be working with a research committee composed of faculty and staff to execute the plan. “Our plan is aligned with McMaster’s Strategic Research Plan to increase research income,” notes McGillion. “We have to think carefully about how to continue to support our faculty to increase the capacity for research. We need to capitalize on the diversity and the range of funding opportunities that reflect the way that research is being conducted today, often in larger, more complex teams and with innovative partnerships involving industry and multiple community partners.” 

“There is a major focus on patient engagement and patient-oriented research, directly aligned with our key strengths,” notes McGillion. “Our nurse scientists at the School of Nursing are among the world’s leading researchers in developing, implementing and evaluating interventions that target patient priorities. Dr. Maureen Markle-Reid (Canada Research Chair in Aging, Chronic Disease and Health Promotion Interventions), Carrie McAiney and their team, for example, are engaging patients and caregivers in a research study aimed at helping older adults transition from hospital to home. Before the study even began, members of the public identified gaps in the system. They told researchers they were facing struggles such as gaps in communication between hospital staff and family doctors. The researchers incorporated these ideas into the study and continue to work with these stakeholders to co-design solutions to these problems.” 

Dr. Maureen Dobbins, another professor in the School of Nursing, is the Scientific Director of the National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools (NCCMT), which is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. “Evidence-informed decision-making in public health is important because it ensures that the most effective interventions and programs are put into practice,” says Dobbins. “The goal of NCCMT is to help support the development of knowledge, skill and capacity for public health professionals to use the best available research evidence in decision-making. If we are implementing into practice those interventions that have the greatest chance for success, then this should translate into better outcomes for the population of Canada.” 

Dr. Susan Jack’s research projects involve developing and evaluating public health interventions to recognize and respond to family violence. Jack collaborates with public health policy, practice and academic partners in Canada, the US, the UK and Australia.  She is one of the leads responsible for bringing the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) to Canada. In the US, this evidence-based nurse home visitation program demonstrates effectiveness in improving the health and lives of socially and economically disadvantaged first time mothers and their infants. For NFP, Jack led the development of a curriculum and an intervention for nurses to identify and respond to intimate partner violence.  

Engage more students in research

The School of Nursing also aims to involve more students in research at both the graduate and undergraduate level. “Our nursing students and trainees are at the forefront of all of the challenges and health system issues that we face delivering quality care,” says McGillion. “They’re on the front line of health care, so they are well positioned to advocate for how to practically solve these problems. The people you want leading the next generation in research and innovation are the people who are there living the reality with these patients. That’s a key strength of our nursing students.” 

“Through our strategic plan, we aim to foster an infrastructure that can support the development of trainees who are going to lead the way in executing this kind of research in the future,” says McGillion. 

Dr. Nancy Carter, Assistant Dean, Nursing Graduate Program, explains that this plan “supports a number of goals of the Graduate Nursing Program. We want our students to be immersed in the culture of academic teaching and research by working in teams of senior and upcoming researchers in nursing and other disciplines. The graduate research seminar, led by Dr. Michael McGillion and Dr. Sandra Carroll, provides the opportunity to hone important skills including development of fundable research questions, synthesis of relevant literature to support arguments, and strategies to defend and promote ideas. McMaster PhD graduates will be prepared to successfully apply for research funding and independently conduct research relevant to their clinical practice.” 

The Aging, Community and Health Research Unit (ACHRU) co-led by Drs. Markle-Reid, Ploeg and Valaitis, has engaged close to 50 students since 2012. “We have involved post-docs, graduate students and undergraduate students from nursing, business, engineering, social sciences, and psychology,” says Markle-Reid. “Graduate students such as Sue Bookey-Bassett have carved out a piece of the research for their thesis work.” Some students have won external funding for awards for their work. They write papers, participate in knowledge translation events, run seminar series, and participate in research team meetings. “I’m really proud of the students. The trainees make significant contributions to the research. They have opportunities to engage with multiple stakeholders, e.g., health and community support, decision-makers, patients/caregivers, and gain valuable contextual understanding from patients/caregivers and decision-makers,” Markle-Reid notes. 

“There are numerous opportunities now for students who really want a research career,” says Dr. Pam Baxter, Assistant Dean, Undergraduate Nursing Education. “We created a new course that students can take from the second year on to get more engaged in the research process with our senior faculty members. It’s also a great opportunity for our research faculty to identify stars and move them through the program with a focus on research.” 

McGillion has involved BScN students in his own projects. “For example, in the SMArtVIEW Hospital to Home program following cardiac and vascular surgery, we’ve had several research interns, like Paul Betz, who worked intensively on our patient engagement strategy. His input was invaluable to the research grants we’ve applied for, and invaluable to thinking through intervention design,” says McGillion. 

Other students who have been successful with the CIHR Health Professional Student Research Fellowship include Joanna Chu, who graduated from the BScN program this spring. Chu approached Assistant Professor Dr. Jenny Yost in her third year because she was interested in research. Chu helped on various research activities Yost was involved in and then applied to (and won) the CIHR student award. That award gave her the opportunity to work on a systematic review for the Population Health Research Institute, led by Dr. Sandra Carroll, involving patient engagement in the process of research. “She was a star student,” says Yost.  

Promote health and improve health care

Ultimately, the goal of the school’s researchers is to promote health and improve health care for everyone. That’s what keeps them motivated and creative despite the challenges researchers face today. It’s an inspiring mission, McGillion explains. It’s what drew him to nursing as a student, and it’s why he and other researchers dedicate their lives to the profession. “Being engaged in research at this level allows us to solve real problems that matter to people’s lives and their well-being and recovery. As a school, we are leading health system innovation and creating new models of care, helping people live well after major illness, and helping to prevent illnesses from developing in the first place.” 

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