Sept. 22, 2020

Nursing research at UCalgary takes a giant leap forward

Colleen Cuthbert is faculty’s first Canada Research Chair
Colleen Cuthbert
Colleen Cuthbert

UCalgary Nursing’s first-ever Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Tier II Canada Research Chair (CRC) was announced in late July. Alumna Dr. Colleen Cuthbert, BN’06, MN/NP’08, PhD’17, who began as a tenure-track assistant professor in 2019, accepted the CRC in Patient and Family Centred Cancer Survivorship. Funding term is five years with the possibility of one renewal.

This role expands on the faculty’s research excellence in the priority area of oncology, firmly established in 2015 with the Kids Cancer Care Foundation Chair in Child and Family Cancer Care held by Dr. Nancy Moules until 2020. That chair, and Moules’s research, focused on psychosocial oncology, a subspecialty that addresses the social, emotional, and quality of life impacts of cancer beyond the biological aspects of the disease.

“The CRC program is a marker of research creativity and innovation in our country and that is a goal we at UCalgary Nursing strive to achieve,” says Moules, now associate dean (research) for the faculty. “Colleen’s work uplifts all of nursing research and I am very excited for what outcomes will result from her work in the next five years and beyond.”

“Traditionally, cancer research and care delivery have focused on active cancer treatment, but survivorship, the phase after cancer treatment, has recently gained more attention,” explains Cuthbert. “This is because of the growing number of survivors and because research has demonstrated survivors have unique health needs requiring support in multiple domains to achieve optimum health and quality of life.”

Cancer survivorship research has been identified as a national research priority, Cuthbert adds, with the goal of developing more knowledge, increased capacity, and garnering more funding to address the challenges faced by survivors, their families and the health system.

“There is increased momentum for survivorship research in Canada and internationally, and significant advances in the science of survivorship are possible. I believe the vision and activities directed through the Patient and Family Centred Cancer Survivorship Chair will substantially contribute to this evolution in survivorship science.”

As a health services researcher and nurse practitioner, Cuthbert’s focus has been on patient-oriented research — evaluating biopsychosocial health needs and health outcomes of cancer survivors using multiple research methods.

“I have seen the lasting physical, psychological and social impacts of cancer on patients and families. I have also witnessed many of the knowledge gaps, health-system barriers and capacity challenges facing cancer care systems as they struggle to provide comprehensive survivorship care.”

Her goal: to ultimately improve health and well-being in cancer survivors and their families by developing innovative approaches to survivorship care. One example is the establishment of the RECHARGE program (renewing caregiver health and well-being) at the THRIVE lab based on Cuthbert’s doctoral research illustrating family caregivers benefited from physical activity.

Cuthbert is excited about providing strategic leadership within UCalgary Nursing’s priority of living well with chronic conditions and fostering a high level of research productivity and development of the next generation of scientists.

“My vision is to collaborate with other faculties, institutes, universities and community organizations to advance the science of survivorship. Driving this vision and my dedication to this area of research is my passion to advocate for cancer survivors.”

Cuthbert is one of six newly named CRCs from the University of Calgary. Interestingly, in this Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, 2020 also marks the 20th anniversary of the Canada Research Chair Program, which invests up to $295 million per year to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds.