What is your current position and how did you get there?
I am Vice Dean (Health Sciences), Director of the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, and Professor of Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation Science at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Being in this type of role was not part of my initial career plans. I started as an occupational therapist working primarily with older adults in community and transitional settings, focused on health promotion, participation, and healthy aging. I also volunteered extensively with the Multiple Sclerosis Society. My work and volunteer experiences raised many questions for me about how to effectively support people to maintain meaningful engagement in daily life, despite age or disability. My questions lead me to pursue an MSc and PhD in Community Health Sciences from the University of Manitoba. Upon completion of my PhD, I was recruited to Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Fort Lauderdale Florida, and then later to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). While at UIC, I was able to integrate my research interests and focus on understanding the experience of aging with multiple sclerosis, and the use of and need for health related services in this population. I started at UIC as an Assistant Professor, then achieved tenure and promotion, and eventually was promoted to the rank of full Professor. Although I was happy and successful in my position in Chicago, I was ready for a change and ready to return to Canada, which is my home country. I was approached and asked to consider applying for the position at Queen’s University, although was uncertain about taking an administrative role. After talking with many rehabilitation researchers who have moved into an administrative position about the impact of this role on their research efforts, I decided to apply and was eventually selected for my current position. Queen’s University has a stellar reputation and the School of Rehabilitation Therapy is well known for its collegial atmosphere. The position has been a good fit for this next stage of my career.
What are your connections with Plymouth?
I have been aware of the research work of Dr Jenny Freeman since the late 1990’s, as we share a mutual interest in multiple sclerosis rehabilitation. I was involved in co-chairing a MS Rehabilitation Research consensus meeting in 2005, hosted by the National MS Society in the USA. Dr Freeman was one of our invited speakers and I had the opportunity to meet her at that time. We have stayed in touch over the years, sharing resources, talking at conferences, and generally tracking each other’s work. Because of this longstanding connection, I invited her to participate in the International Multiple Sclerosis Falls Prevention Research Network, which I coordinate, in late 2013. Dr Freeman was interested, and also suggested the participation of Dr Hilary Gunn, who is also at Plymouth. Both of them are now active collaborators in the network, and I have regular contact with both of them around projects and initiatives related to falls prevention among people with MS.
What are your key research interests and activities?
My research aims to generate knowledge that can be used to enable people with multiple sclerosis and their families to fully participate in everyday life. To pursue this aim, my research involves developing, implementing and evaluating self-management programs; examining patterns and predictors of rehabilitation service use and outcomes; and translating knowledge to strengthen clinical practice. My specific areas of expertise include fatigue management, falls prevention, and caregiver support. My current funded studies include: (1) A longitudinal investigation of transitions into nursing homes among people with MS, with a specific focus on trajectories of health care utilization, (2) A pilot feasibility study of an interactive, self-directed fatigue management education program for people with MS, (3) An investigation of the factors associated with bone mineral density screening among people with MS and the extent to which bone mineral density can be used as a predictor of risk of fall-related fractures in this population. I am also working as a co-investigator on several other MS studies testing fall prevention interventions, promoting activity, and understanding the experience of relapse management. In addition to these various projects, a major focus for me over the last year and a half has been building and seeking funding to support the work of the International MS Falls Prevention Research Network. This group includes ten MS fall prevention researchers from five countries (Canada, US, UK, Italy, Ireland) and four disciplines (occupational therapy, physical therapy, neurology, kinesiology). Our goal is to develop and test a multi-factorial fall prevention program for people with MS to reduce falls, improve dynamic balance, and improve community participation.