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Researcher Spotlight: Susan Jack

Mar 23, 2022

Susan Jack

When did you start conducting research?

In 1997 when I started in the MSc (Nursing) program at McMaster University, I was working as a nursing manager in a public health unit. I supervised nurses and family home visitors working in the Healthy Babies Healthy Children program. At that time, a common challenge in home visiting was how to identify, enroll, engage, and then retain families these types of programs. I wondered: Could research help us find solutions? So, in my first research project as part of the MSc degree, I identified the strategies nurses and family home visitors used to gain access into the homes and lives of families. Then in my PhD program, I explored young mothers’ experiences of engaging with nurses and family home visitors in home visiting.  

Over the past few years, what have been your main topics of research?

I have two areas of focus: the evaluation of nurse home visitation programs, and the prevention of family violence. Through this research program, I work with an amazing international network of researchers to evaluate the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) home visitation program in different contexts. In Ontario my research also involves close collaborations with policy partners and public health nursing practice leaders working with the Healthy Babies Healthy Children program.

Why is research into these topics important?

Women who experience intimate partner violence are at increased risk for multiple, adverse reproductive, mental health and physical health issues, including depression, anxiety, injuries, or chronic pain. In home visitation programs, public health nurses are well-positioned to identify and support pregnant women and mothers who are experiencing abuse. Through our research, we learned that nurses need additional education on how to ask about women’s experiences of abuse and then skills on how to respond and provide supports to these families. In response, we developed a program of intimate partner violence education for NFP nurses working in the United States. This curriculum has been scaled-up for delivery to all NFP programs in the United States and is currently being adapted and evaluated in NFP programs in British Columbia, Ontario, Northern Ireland and Norway.

Tell me about the intimate partner violence nurse education and its impact.

As part of a larger study, we sought to understand if this education would improve nurses’ capacity to address this important health issue in their practice. NFP nurse home visitors who participated in the intimate partner violence education reported improvements in their thoughts, feelings, and perceived behaviours related to addressing this type of abuse in their practice. These nurses also shared that completing the education gave them a new sense of confidence in knowing how to ask women about their experiences of violence and how to respond to a disclosure.

Tell me about your work with the Public Health Nursing Practice, Research, and Education Program (PHN-PREP).

PHN-PREP is a partnership between researchers, policy partners and public health nursing leaders to develop, evaluate and share resources to support public health nurses in their work with families. One of our activities is to learn how experienced nurses solve common practice challenges and to share that information with other home visiting teams across the province. We have developed a framework for developing and disseminating these practice-informed nursing guidance resources. One example of these resources is related to the pandemic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, public health nurses who typically conduct visits with families inside their homes had to rapidly shift to either connecting remotely by phone or videoconference OR doing “outside” visits. We asked nurses to share their expertise on how they adapted their practice to respond to these new challenges. The result was the development of this resource: Planning and conducting outdoor visits with families. We have many more practice guidance resources available on the PHN-PREP resource hub.

What advice would you give to a budding researcher? 

Identify and answer research questions that can provide solutions for challenges commonly experienced in your practice/policy/or education context.

 Join a research team. Conducting research is a team sport! It requires a range of skills, talents, resources, connections, and networks. By joining a team, you as a novice researcher can be mentored in developing new skills. You can learn how to write a grant or how to analyze different types of data. You can work collaboratively with others to increase productivity. It’s very satisfying to work, reflect and write as a team. Working together with people with shared interests and goals can make this challenging work a lot of fun!


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