Researcher Spotlight: Emily Belita
Dec 8, 2021
Dr. Emily Belita is one of the newest members of the School of Nursing faculty. She joined the school as an assistant professor in July 2021. Before she began teaching at McMaster, Belita worked in public health nursing, and her current research focusses on ways to improve public health programs and services in Canada.
Public health workers such as nurses need to use scientific evidence when they are making decisions about programs and services they deliver to individuals and communities. But this isn’t a simple task. There is a lot of evidence out there, and it can be hard to sift through the masses of information about research studies coming out every day in journals around the world. Some of Belita’s research focuses directly on this process, which is called evidence-informed decision-making (or EIDM for short). She wants to help public health nurses find and use different sources of evidence. Her PhD thesis dealt with this topic.
“It was a three-stage project,” says Belita. “I first completed a systematic review to see what tools were out there to measure competence in EIDM in nurses. This involved over 100 studies. We found there weren’t a lot of tools specific to the public health setting. As a second stage, I developed a tool called the EIDM Competence Measure. It’s a self-reflective tool that can be used by front line nurses and nursing management in public health to identify gaps in EIDM competency, which can support professional development needs. We then tested the tool among a group of international EIDM experts and public health nurses in Ontario.”
Initially, Belita planned to roll out this tool to the health units involved in the testing of it. However, this was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, she is working with a team from the National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools (NCCMT) to develop an online version of the tool. “We will house it on the NCCMT website, and it can be freely available to public health professionals. I think it’s an interesting time for public health. In pandemic recovery, many public health workers will be returning to core programming and services. This tool can be used to identify EIDM learning needs as they seek out existing evidence to support decisions as they resume services,” says Belita.
Belita first became interested in EIDM as a BScN student at McMaster. “I took the 3C04 course. I loved how analytical the critical appraisal process was and I enjoyed trying to understand how we use research evidence to make informed clinical decisions. I was really intrigued by research early on as a nursing student,” she says.
Belita is also curious about the role of youth in public health research. “As a public health nurse, I worked with youth in elementary and high schools on different public health projects related to healthy eating, mental health, or physical activity. Youth engagement was an important part of this process, but I had never explored it in a research context. So during my post-doc, I wanted to expand my knowledge of it.” Belita is currently leading a SSHRC Connection Grant with a team of child/youth health researchers. “The goal is to share research and lessons learned on how best to engage youth in the research process. We will be bringing together a national network of youth leaders, researchers, and service providers to exchange ideas and identify opportunities for collaboration.”
What Belita enjoys most about research is the constant learning and the exposure to different perspectives, theories, and methodologies. “The data analysis part is really exciting because that is when you uncover new and sometimes surprising findings. Also, working with diverse teams develops my knowledge of new ways to conduct research,” she notes.
Her advice to new researchers is to seek out diverse opportunities to do research. “Learn by doing. Establish a supportive network of researchers that are both within and outside of your discipline, in different career stages, and that have different life experiences. That exposes you to different perspectives and different ways of looking at a research idea,” she says.