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Researcher Spotlight: Olive Wahoush

Oct 22, 2020
Guylaine Spencer

Olive Wahoush

What draws a researcher to one area of specialization over another?  

For Dr. Olive Wahoush, it was her experience working with new mothers in hospitals in Hamilton and Toronto that inspired her to focus on refugees and newcomers.  

Wahoush is an associate professor and associate director, Newcomer Health, Community and International Outreach in the School of Nursing. “My research has been focussed largely on marginalized or vulnerable communities. I honed in on this topic back in 2001, when I was determining what I was going to do for my PhD research,” says Wahoush. “My interest came from my hospital roles, where some of our families were asylum-seeking or refugee women. I began noticing the challenges they had in navigating the health care system with young children. I wanted to explore that a bit more. My first  study involved interviewing parents from 55 families who had come to Canada and were living in Hamilton. They had at last one preschool child. I looked at how they managed when a child had an illness.” She explored the struggles they faced when dealing with health care providers and the need for supports like language interpreters.  

Her findings from that study were published in her PhD thesis, in academic journals and at academic conferences. However, she also shared her work in less conventional forms, such as tip sheets which she sent to doctors, nurses, and organizations like settlement agencies who had requested information about her study. In addition, Wahoush went back to the mothers in the study, presented her findings, and thanked them for their participation. “We did that over morning tea where people were able to ask questions. The moms liked the fact that I’m a pediatric nurse and a mother as well.”

Her work with local groups supporting refugees led to other community contacts and to another, more recent, research project. The Hamilton Food Share Impact Analysis project looks at the impact that these services have on people’s lives. “Hamilton Food Share supports more than 100 food banks and food cupboards,” says Wahoush. “For this study, we completed surveys and focus groups with their clients. Food banks collectively provide an astonishing array of services and help, from form filling to referrals to income support help, job search advice, help with housing, etc. What we learned was that different groups actually value different elements of supports.”

While grounded in local experience, Wahoush’s research scope is international as well. Her first research actually goes back to her undergraduate years in Ireland, where she conducted research with rural mothers of young children. More recently, a study she completed in 2017  involved interviewing people who live in or just outside of refugee camps in Jordan about their access (or lack of access) to end-of-life and palliative care services.  

After nearly 20 years of conducting community-based health research, Wahoush says that what she enjoys most about research is exploring the topics. “Each project really is a voyage of discovery.” She also appreciates connecting with people in the community and learning how we can help improve the health of individuals, families and communities.  

For budding researchers, she offers this advice. “Think about the people around you and their daily lives. How might life be different from their perspective?  Realize that our own experiences and families are also part of the story. What is important for day-to-day health? Be curious and ask questions.”  

You can learn more about Dr. Wahoush: BIO Olive Wahoush


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