IWK Researcher wins prestigious national fellowship: Evidence-based practice of improving clinical care and health care systems

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The Canadian Institutes of Health Research recently awarded their prestigious Health System Impact Postdoctoral Fellowship to a small cohort of only 29 recipients across the entire nation. The highly coveted two-year paid fellowship is awarded to a select group of high-performing researchers studying health services and policy research.

The IWK’s Dr. Christine Cassidy, RN, is one of those few.

The fellowship provides a unique hybrid of academic and experiential learning, with Dr. Cassidy supervised by Dr. Ian Graham (an international expert in knowledge translation) at the University of Ottawa, and Stacy Burgess, Director of Children’s Health Programs, as the IWK health system partner organization.

The fellowship provides a unique opportunity to apply their research to critical challenges in the healthcare system, and explore how their research can contribute to the health system’s performance and impact.

“This is all about bringing evidence into practice,” Cassidy says. “It’s getting the knowledge into the hands of those who can use it.”

Dr. Cassidy’s research lineage is well-established at the IWK, having completed her PhD as a trainee in Dr. Janet Curran’s Strengthening Transitions in Care” lab. Cassidy started as a staff nurse on the Family Newborn Care Unit at the IWK in 2014 before moving to MSNU for research. She is now extending that research work into two other units: PMU and 6Link.

“When I realized my work was having a real impact, I decided I wanted to make helping staff with research implementation my full-time job,” Cassidy says.

The Children’s Health Program has a wide variety of services necessitating that the care must be adapted to the different contexts according to the patient populations and the environments. Burgess explains how the Cassidy’s research is making a difference to the culture of the IWK.

We have to optimize our mindset to evidence-based care and our own ability to implement,” Burgess says. “I’ve been at the IWK for 20 years, but the last year has been the first time I have been involved in research at this level, so it’s also a learning opportunity for me and the staff on the units.”

Cassidy’s research focuses on designing, implementing, and evaluating nursing practice and policy changes using an integrated knowledge translation (IKT) approach. IKT helps move evidence into practice by promoting a collaborative model of research, where researchers and knowledge users work together to address complex health care problems.

As further evidence of this cultural transformation, MSNU clinical lead nurses Laura Foley and Katherine Dugas will be published on two of Dr. Cassidy’s research papers.

Decision-makers at the IWK Health Centre are interested in using an IKT approach to implement a clinical decision tool called “CHEWS” into practice and examine the conditions needed to support IKT. The Children’s Hospital Early Warning System (CHEWS), is used to identify pediatric patients at risk for getting critically ill. This presents a timely opportunity to implement and evaluate the CHEWS tool in the Children’s Health Program at the IWK Health Centre, and examine the process of IKT and its impact on research use.

“CHEWS is a clinical documentation tool staff will use to assist them in determining critical deterioration of a patient,” Cassidy explains. “It uses a stop-light analogy; green means all good, yellow means something is not right, and red requires Specialized Pediatric Outreach Team (SPOT) activation or code blue.”

Cassidy will work closely with stakeholders at the IWK Health Centre to implement and evaluate CHEWS and examine the process of knowledge translation and its impact on research use.

“The research findings will inform future implementation of research evidence into nursing practice and decision-making,” Cassidy concludes. “I’m really looking forward to continuing to work closely with my IWK partners to implement a new practice change, while also advancing the science of knowledge translation.”