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Researchers in Action: Meet the Office of Research team from the Department of Anesthesia

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Members of the Office of Research team from the Department of Anesthesia. Left to right, starting on the top row: Izabela Panek, Sharon Amey, Stephanie Blackman, Taryn Forrestall, Kaela Fraser (Missing: Ashley Zahavich)

In 2008, the Department of Anesthesia established an Office of Research (OoR) to foster research and lay the foundation for a research-rich department. The breadth of research includes basic science, clinical research, and product innovation. The projects are intraoperative, studying medications or medical devices used around the time of surgery, and also look at surgical recovery and the management of acute and chronic pain. The Department is home to world-renowned researchers in areas such as airway management, cannabinoids, and brain imaging and pain. This includes Canada Research Chair in Pain, Dr. Javeria Hashmi.

The OoR team does front-line activities such as recruiting patients and collecting and managing data. The team also supports investigators and research excellence behind the scenes, through activities such as creating standard operating procedures and managing an internal funding program that provides seed money for pilot projects. A crucial element of this department’s research is that it is relevant and impactful to patient care. A recent innovative, team-lead initiative of the OoR is the Anesthesia Research Consultants Committee (ARCC). This advisory committee engages patients, families, and caregivers to ensure that research projects capture and speak to patient needs.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with team members from the research office to learn more about their work.

Kaela Fraser

The backstory: I graduated from Acadia with a BSc in Chemistry. After graduating I worked on clinical research studies related to infectious diseases and psychological disorders, then moved on to anesthesia, pain management and perioperative medicine. I’ve always been interested in clinical work and scientific methods!

The work: I help principal investigators and project coordinators operationalize studies. This includes recruiting, screening, consenting, and following-up with participants. I’m helping with a study looking at a different anesthesia procedure to improve pain management after surgery. Another project involves seeing if different types of oxygenators affect platelet function.

My day-to-day often changes. Some days include screening and recruiting patients, others involve data entry or meetings with investigators and my team.

The inspiration: Knowing I’m helping work towards better patient care is what inspires me. I love working in clinical research because you can continuously learn new things and do something different each day.

The importance of research: Research helps advance healthcare and provides more treatment options and can make a positive difference in people’s lives.

Stephanie Blackman

The backstory: After getting my Master’s in Gerontology, I moved from Vancouver to Halifax in 2014 and have been working in research coordination ever since. I have also engaged in continued learning activities through such programs as Applied Clinical Research at McMaster, French and Alliance Française, and orchestra at the Halifax Music Co-Op.

The work: I work on several projects within the department, both at Nova Scotia and the IWK. I also help with general research activities in the department, such as supporting our annual Research Day event.

Our manager fosters an environment where we can think critically and work in a supportive and collaborative environment. This translates into most areas of the work we do – supporting research processes throughout the lifecycle of a project.

The inspiration:  My main source of inspiration at work has been the colleagues and managers that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with and learn from over the course of my career. I love getting to work with my peers and feeling like we can have a positive impact on our research projects.

The importance of research: The vision on the Office of Research is “Impactful patient care through advancing quality research in all its diversity.” I believe thoughtfully designed and well executed research can meaningfully contribute to the evidence base.

Sharon Amey

The backstory: In 2010, I started working in the IWK’s Centre for Pediatric Pain Research, which is affiliated with the Department of APMPM. I had just finished a master’s degree and my focus was on health economics. I approached the job as a chance to better understand the health system and health system data. What I took away from the job, however, was how much I enjoyed data collection and patient interaction and seeing the clinical applications of what we were research. When the opportunity recently arose to work directly with the Department of APMPM at Nova Scotia Health, I jumped at it!

The work: Our office supports clinical trials and investigator-led research within the Department of APMPM. We also foster research more broadly through Research Days and creating guidance documents. The research I’m currently most involved with is clinical, around the surgical recovery of older adults and chronic pain. This involves recruiting patients and collecting and managing data, and also project management activities around standard operating procedures, ethics, budgets, and knowledge translation.

The inspiration: Seeing how our day-to-day research directly impacts patient care is both what I love and what inspires me. Overwhelmingly, when we approach patients with our research, they are genuinely interested in what we are doing, and they tell us that they want to help. Being in the hospital can be such a vulnerable time for patients. I have so much appreciation when they are able to be in that moment and still consider the potential good that our research can do.

The importance of research: Research is important for identifying what can be improved and how we can improve it. Thinking more specifically to our field, anesthesia, pain management, and surgery are conditions that impact all of us, sometimes with very little notice. When we are in the position of needing these health services for ourselves or our loved ones, we trust that we can access the best possible care. Research is what gets us to that gold standard of care.

Izabela Panek

The backstory: I came from Poland after completing my PhD in neuroscience and initially worked at Dalhousie University as a fundamental science researcher and later a research manager.  I joined Anesthesia almost 4 years ago, and I have been working here as a research project coordinator, focusing on clinical trials.

The work: I engage in a lot of activities from feasibility assessment to study implementation and realization. I lead several clinical trials, manage the regulatory documentation, approvals, and finances. I love working with data and always seek opportunities to engage in initiatives that require analytics and reporting.

Most days, I share my day between the administrative and research responsibilities. We are very fortunate to have an amazing team of research enthusiasts who are always there to support each other. One of our directors, Heather, favourite sayings is “The fun is in the learning”- I agree, and we have a lot of fun!

The Inspiration: The patients are my biggest inspiration. Their altruism in supporting the research is always a great reminder of why we are doing it all.

The importance of research: Research is the key to innovation and improvement, as well as to understanding fundamental mechanisms and processes in medicine. I believe that quality research gives us the power to gather evidence to answer important questions and explore new treatments and processes.

Taryn Forrestall:

The backstory: Soon after graduating from Dalhousie in 2015, I was given the opportunity to work on a long-term research project called Atlantic Partnership for Tomorrow’s Health. This project is investigating how genetics, environment, lifestyle, and behaviour contribute to the development of certain chronic diseases and is part of the largest chronic disease research project in Canada.

I loved being able to see connections through collecting data, and decided I wanted to move to clinical trials research. I worked with the Hematology research group assisting with Multiple Meyloma trials and coordinating studies on bleeding disorders. I really liked working closely with patients and seeing the trials making a difference in their lives. I knew eventually I’d like to see what the other research departments are working on, so when the opportunity came to join the anesthesia group one year ago, I had to take it!

The inspiration: Patients inspire me! Being able to see how much they are willing to help with our projects during some of their scariest moments is incredible. Their belief in research motivates me to do as much as possible for them. I love research because I feel like I’m helping to make a difference, and when I hear stories of how a certain drug or procedure improved outcomes for our patients, it’s a great feeling!

The importance of research: Research is so important because the outcomes are life changing. Seeing how a drug or device can change someone’s life so drastically is the best part of this job.

Ashley Zahavich

The backstory: My research career started during my Master’s degree at the University of Calgary in 2010 in the field of psychosocial oncology.  I had the opportunity to study a yoga program for cancer survivors, which was rolled out into community programming. I was encouraged that research studies could, so tangibly, support patients during their healthcare journey. From there I completed a nursing degree, as an avenue towards more clinical research opportunities. My first role at Nova Scotia Health was with the cardiology research team, as a research coordinator, and from there I took on my current role as a project coordinator with the anesthesia research office.

The work: As a project coordinator I have a diverse role in the office, which I really enjoy. Some parts of my day are administrative, creating SOPs and regulatory templates to support studies in following guidelines. Other tasks involve feasibility assessments of new studies, to ensure we have the finances and resources to successfully roll out a project. I also support learners in our department, by providing them education on research processes like consent or documentation and organizing their annual Research Day.

The Inspiration: I am continually inspired by my team – we are fortunate to have created such a supportive and uplifting work environment. We all, not only keep up with our day-to-day tasks, but together find ways to better streamline processes, push the status quo, and ultimately improve the quality of research in our department. I love being in a role that allows me to problem solve, continually learn, and see projects to fruition.

The importance of research: Canada is in a health care crisis, and we have no choice but to improve the delivery and outcome of patient care to lessen burdens on the system.  I think the research the APMPM department is doing, especially with its efforts to include more of a patient voice, is vital in supporting better outcomes for patients. I believe research should not only result in better ways to care for patients but should also result in concrete outcomes that allow patients to take more control and responsibility over their own wellbeing.