Nova Scotia Health welcomes top talent through Health System Impact Fellowship program

Nova Scotia Health is welcoming Dr. Julia Kaal and Mike Reid as the organization’s 2021 Canadian Institute of Health Research’s (CIHR) Health System Impact Fellows.

CIHR’s Health System Impact Fellowship is a prestigious program that provides an opportunity for doctoral trainees and post-doctoral fellows who are studying health services and policy research, or related fields, to apply their research and analytic talents to priority issues and challenges in health care.

For successful candidates, it is a unique opportunity to work within a health system with an academic supervisor who will guide their experiences and develop specific skills that will prepare them for future opportunities to work as embedded scientists within the health system.

Nova Scotia Health, with sponsorship from Dr. Gail Tomblin Murphy, Vice President of Research, Innovation, and Discovery and Chief Nurse Executive, plays a unique role in attracting and supporting a large number of Fellows who are working in various areas of the health system. Prior to 2021, over six fellowship positions have been awarded in Nova Scotia, with three fellows continuing to work with Nova Scotia Health following their fellowship.

“The difference that our fellows are making for our patients, families, clinicians, the health system and government is phenomenal,” said Dr. Tomblin Murphy. “We are transforming our health care system, and our Health System Impact Fellows are working with our research teams, policy makers, and leadership to bring evidence-based research to all decision making.”

Dr. Julia Kaal, originally from Germany, is currently working under the supervision of Dr. Robin Urquhart, Nova Scotia Health affiliate scientist and Canadian Cancer Society Endowed Chair in Population Cancer Research in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie University.

For Dr. Kaal, the Health System Impact Fellowship was an opportunity to translate the results of her PhD dissertation into impactful work.

“I was immediately drawn to working with Nova Scotia Health. I was impressed that they have three impact fellows on their team and have really created a culture for a learning health system. This type of culture is crucial. It shows that the organization is willing to push for change and implement evidence informed intervention.”

Through the program, Dr. Kaal hopes that her work will create impact for the survivorship care that is necessary for individuals who are transitioning from acute treatment to survivorship care. She is hoping to design a model of care that takes into consideration the needs and constraints of the health care system while involving all key stakeholders.

“The fellowship program will give me the opportunity to shadow physicians in cancer care and in community settings, connect with patients and patient advisory boards, and design an evaluation plan that will allow us to measure the impact of our work.”

Working under the supervision of Dr. George Kephart, Professor, Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Dalhousie University, and Dr. Tara Sampalli, Senior Scientific Director, Research, Innovation, and Discovery, Nova Scotia Health, Mike Reid’s Health System Impact Fellowship proposal has the distinction of being named as the top application of any doctoral candidate in Canada.

Reid’s work will explore how people accessing the health care system have a differing experience with primary health care as their health care needs become more complex.

“A person who is relatively young and healthy and visits their doctor once a year for basic care will have a relatively straightforward relationship with the primary health care system. But if you develop more serious issues, the dynamic between a person, their broader support team and the primary health care system becomes much more complicated.”

Reid says that in many cases, as a patients’ needs become more complex, the gap between their needs and what existing primary health care systems can provide becomes larger. His work will help understand which services and supports need to be better integrated with primary health care and will help inform the development of primary health care networks in Nova Scotia.

“I am very fortunate to be able to do this work in a province with such a strong culture of collaboration and support. Organizations like Dalhousie University, the Maritime SPOR Support Unit, the Building Research for Integrated Primary Healthcare in Nova Scotia Network (BRICNS), and Nova Scotia Health have all played a huge part in supporting my work, and it is these relationships that will allow us to bring new, timely, and relevant knowledge to the health system and really make an impact.”

Drs. Meaghan Sim, Mark Embrett and Logan Lawrence, all past Health System Impact Fellows, also currently work with Nova Scotia Health as Health Outcome Scientists. They are responsible for providing strategic and operational leadership in the development, management and evaluation of health outcomes projects across the organization.

Nova Scotia Health’s Health System Impact Fellows are supported by Dr. Sampalli as part of the Network of Scholars program within the Research, Innovation, and Discovery portfolio.

“The implementation science and network of scholars strategy within the Research, Innovation and Discovery portfolio are key enablers toward our strategy for a learning health system at Nova Scotia Health. We have created a strategic and systematic approach to engaging learners and scholars in providing health system experience, mentorship and training to develop key competencies,” said Dr. Sampalli.

“At the same time, the strategy to increase capacity for embedded scientists and scholars creates the capacity for the system to engage in the use of best practice evidence and supports for rapid implementation and evaluation of key recommendations and best practice evidence.”

To learn more about the Health System Impact Fellowship program, or to apply for the 2022 cohort, visit https://cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/52692.html.