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Researcher Spotlight: Michelle Butt

May 17, 2021
By Guylaine Spencer

Michelle Butt

Photo above: Michelle Butt  

Dr. Michelle Butt became involved in research even before she entered her nursing studies. “I was doing a science degree at the time, and for my summer job, I worked as a research assistant for a physician, collecting data on diabetes in clinics throughout Newfoundland,” Butt recalls. “But I really got started doing independent research in graduate school. That’s where I gained my passion for it.”  

Over the past several years, Butt has developed two main research areas of focus: examining the effectiveness and quality of care for high-risk infants and their families; and instrument development. She looks at how to improve health care services for infants and their parents. She also joins research teams in other areas of study as requested because of her instrument development expertise. But her true passion relates to infants and their families.  

“One topic I study is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). That’s a virus that typically affects children under two years of age and is prevalent in late fall to early spring. Pre-term infants are often more likely to get RSV due to lung problems related to their prematurity. Dr. Bosco Paes, professor emeritus in the Department of Paediatrics, and I conduct studies on RSV-related hospitalization in children enrolled in the RSV prophylaxis program. Children in the program get immunizations on a monthly basis during the RSV season. The medication for immunization is quite expensive, so only children with certain risk factors are eligible to receive it. Afterwards, we examine the data to ask: Did these children get hospitalized? Are certain groups of children more susceptible to RSV hospitalization? What happened to them if they were hospitalized? From the data, we are able to advise clinicians and policymakers in terms of who should be offered prophylaxis. It’s important work because it informs a prevention program for a high-risk population,” Butt explains.  

Another project she is currently involved with is GROWing Together. “I am working with Dr. Amy Wright, assistant professor at the University of Toronto, on an Indigenous-led project in partnership with the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre (HRIC). This CIHR-funded project is looking at how to optimize the health and wellness of young Indigenous families through culturally relevant programs and services for parents. In late April we held our first meeting with community members via Zoom. We had mothers and their babies or toddlers and staff members from HRIC attend, including a knowledge-holder. Mothers spoke about what parenting services and supports they use in the city, and identified strengths, gaps and areas for improvement in these services and supports. Together we will use this information to develop a new community-driven project to best address their parenting service needs,” says Butt.  

Trying to find an answer or learning something new is what Butt enjoys most about conducting research. She also loves doing statistical analysis. “I get so excited when I analyse the data. What is the answer going to be? Also, I am motivated by helping others through the new knowledge the research generates.”  

When asked what advice she would give to a budding researcher, Butt has two suggestions. “First, never lose your curiosity. You learn so much from being inquisitive. Second, do research that you’re passionate about. In my career, the thing that has kept me motivated is that I chose something I’m passionate about. I miss working directly with moms and babies, and doing research is how I stay connected to a population I love.”  

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