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Researcher Spotlight: Sandra Carroll

Nov 3, 2020
Guylaine Spencer

Sandra Carroll ​

Sometimes one experience can change the course of our careers. This happened to Dr. Sandra Carroll in the 1990s, when she was working as a nurse in a hospital in Toronto.  

This was before she entered graduate studies. “I was working alongside a pain scientist and an anesthesiologist and an interdisciplinary team that included nurses. I became involved in research trials. We were doing studies about how to reduce post-operative pain,” says Carroll, who until then hadn’t pictured herself becoming a career researcher.

 That experience changed her direction. “That planted the seed which led me to seek graduate studies and to eventually conduct research as an independent investigator,” Carroll says.  

Driven by her curiosity about research, after relocating to Hamilton she entered graduate school and earned a Doctor of Philosophy from McMaster University. During the PhD she received and completed a CIHR Strategic Training Fellowship in the FUTURE Program for Cardiovascular Nurse Scientists followed by a Post-Doctoral Fellowship through the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario/Michael G. DeGroote Chair in Cardiovascular Nursing Research.  

Today, her research includes patients’ decision-making, decision support in the context of implantable defibrillators, patient preferences for cardiovascular treatments, patient engagement, and patient reported outcomes in arrhythmia care.  

“In the last few years, my work has been focussed on decision-making in patients who are weighing the options about implantable medical devices. This research is important because there has been a shift in the last decade to engage patients in their own decision-making process and options for treatments,” says Carroll.  

A feasibility trial she completed in 2017 showed that it’s possible to deliver decision support to patients. “The research indicated that patients felt well-informed about their medical choices when presented with options. This work has informed our ongoing work where colleagues are developing a suite of decision support options for patients. It has also led to new funding to scale up this work.”

Currently, Carroll is a co-investigator on a large randomized trial that is looking at patient outcomes in patients receiving the newest subcutaneous medical devices compared to standard devices. The project should wrap up recruitment by the end of this year and is coordinated by the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI), where Carroll is an associate scientist.

When asked about advice she might offer to someone starting out in research, Carroll has an interesting suggestion. “Invite a scientist whose work you admire to have a coffee and you will be very surprised to find that they will often say I’d love to. I did that with one of the world leaders in decision science. You have nothing to lose.”

“Research is incredibly hard work. You need to be resilient. You need to keep submitting proposals, keep trying,” she admits. However, she also finds it extremely satisfying, which is one reason why, despite her demanding role as vice dean, Faculty of Health Sciences and director, School of Nursing, she continues to be actively involved in the field.  


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