Congratulations to Ruta Valaitis on her retirement
Feb 24, 2020
Photo above: Dr. Ruta Valaitis cutting her retirement celebration cake.
Professor emeritus Dr. Ruta Valaitis retired in December after 32 years with the School of Nursing. Recently we asked her to reflect back on her career at McMaster.
From babies to older adults, and every age in between, Dr. Ruta Valaitis’ work has involved patients from across the life span. Her experience has included hospitals, home care, and public health, but her abiding interest has always been in the field of community health nursing.
Her first position after graduation was on a hospital medical-surgical floor. “That period was short-lived, though, for I soon found my passion in community health nursing,” says Valaitis. “I worked in home health and public health prior to moving to McMaster University, where I gained a new passion for research and education.”
“My focus has always centred on the 1978 principles of primary health care. The principles were always the same – working with clients, community engagement in research and practice using participatory approaches, multi-sectoral involvement in research and education, a focus on health promotion and disease prevention focus, and the use of technology in practice and education.”
Teaching has been a part of her career throughout her time at McMaster, but research became her main focus over the years. “In the beginning, it focused on undergraduate teaching. Then I had the great privilege of working as a cross appointee at the ‘teaching health unit’ for the City of Hamiton, Public Health Services for 17 years. This provided a rich natural ‘lab’ for research and local public health program evaluation. Later this morphed into leading and working on large research teams that were national and even international in scope,” she explains. She cites her work with PAHO/WHO Collaborating Centre on Primary Care Nursing and Health Human Resources, and the Aging, Community and Health Research Unit (ACHRU).
Dr. Valaitis in centre, celebrating the inauguration of the Dorothy Hall research chair.
Becoming the inaugural holder of the Dorothy C. Hall Endowed Chair in Primary Health Care Nursing in 2007 gave Valaitis the chance to focus more on research and graduate education. “I am especially grateful for this opportunity, which provided me with numerous opportunities to expand my research career.”
One of the major projects she recalls from her long career is a national study that looked at how primary care organizations can work better with public health, where nurses are among the core health care providers. “We found that there are multiple factors that influence how these sectors work together,” she says. “Some are at the level of the individual … in other words, how well people work with each other. Collaborations are also impacted by organizational factors such as each organization’s goals, cultures, mandates, and leadership. Also, at a systems level, government policies and funding make a difference. Based on this work and other past research, I was invited to sit on a number of advisory committees nationally and internationally, including the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care on the development of the new standards for public health.”
Valaitis has published her findings in journals and presented her research in this area at conferences over the years. “We created a framework or model for collaboration. Since that research was done, people are definitely trying to work more closely together. An example of where this work can be incredibly relevant is in the current situation to manage the Corona Virus. Public health and primary care have to work closely together to protect the public’s health. Understanding how to effectively collaborate is critically important in these circumstances.”
Looking back, Valaitis values her career at McMaster for its intellectual stimulation. “You never stop learning,” she says. “I learn as much from the students as I hope they do from me. The opportunity to have that exchange is probably one of the most important aspects of working at a university. Also, the university gives you the chance to work with incredibly talented academics and colleagues who make your work exciting. You also have the opportunity to build a vast network of professionals right across the country and beyond. It’s been a real privilege to be able to do that.”