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Graduate student wins scholarship for research in mental health

May 30, 2018
Guylaine Spencer

Lisa De Panfilis

Lisa De Panfilis, a student in the MScN program, is the recipient of this year’s “Lundbeck Canada Inc. Mental Health Nursing Award”, a $4,000, one-year scholarship from the Canadian Nurses Foundation. 

The award will support her thesis work, which De Panfilis explains “will focus on urban youth who are experiencing a mental illness. I want to investigate their experiences of navigating and accessing mental health care services in the community.”

De Panfilis graduated from the Mohawk/McMaster collaborative BScN program in 2017. “I really enjoyed my education here. Our undergraduate program has a large focus on research which helped me feel prepared to pursue graduate studies. I have a passion for research which is why I chose to do the MScN thesis based program,” she says.

“The reason I’m interested in mental health specifically with youth is my own personal experience. When I was in high school, I experienced depression myself, and I had a really hard time accessing services. I didn’t know what was out there or who could help me. Also, there was a fear of experiencing the stigma associated with mental health and illness which posed a challenge for opening up. I want to investigate what can be done to enhance youth’s experiences of accessing of these services so that they can receive help earlier into the development of their specific mental health concern.”

De Panfilis has done student mental health placements on an in-patient ward at St Joseph’s West 5th Hospital and in the community at Hamilton Public Health. She also works as a school nurse at Hillfield Strathallan College. She discovered in her practice with youth that there are different factors that can change what it is like to access services. “I noted that the experience of accessing services was very different for youth who had an adult advocate or ally compared to those who did not,” she says.

De Panfilis adds that “having nurses doing this kind of research is important because we have a holistic wealth of knowledge that we can use. We understand what the health care environment is like because we are also experienced front-line staff. It is incredible to be taking what I have learned from clients and using it to drive positive change, and researching the issues in our care system.”

De Panfilis’ thesis supervisor is Dr. Ruta Valaitis, whose research relates to improving the delivery of health services and policies in primary health care.

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