McMaster University

McMaster University

Advanced Practice Nursing Chair Program ends after decade of success

By Amanda Boundris
Published: January 25, 2012
Alba DiCenso
Alba DiCenso

The year 2011 marked the end of the 10-year Chair in Advanced Practice Nursing (APN) for Alba DiCenso, a professor in the School of Nursing and Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at McMaster.

In 2001, 12 health services research chairs were appointed by the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation (CHSRF) and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) to build capacity in health services and policy research by training graduate students, mentoring new researchers, establishing linkages with policy makers and conducting research. The APN Chair was valued at $3.2 million.

APN has existed in Canada for over 40 years in the form of clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) and nurse practitioners (NPs). Clinical nurse specialists provide expert nursing care and consultation for specialized client populations, promote evidence-based practice, and facilitate system change. NPs have expanded clinical skills that allow them to diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe medications and perform specific procedures within their legislated scope of practice.

"Early and ongoing involvement of policy makers in the research process is the best predictor for the uptake of research findings into practice,' said DiCenso. "One of my key roles as APN Chair was to teach the importance of linkage and exchange between health services researchers and policy makers.'

The hallmark of the Chair Program was that all research involved policy makers at the local, regional, provincial or national level who helped to define the policy-relevant questions, and who were part of the research team through to dissemination and application of the study findings.

A unique feature of the Chair Program was the experiential training that students received through field placements in policy settings where they actively participated in the policy process and learned how research informs policy.

Since DiCenso's Chair had a national mandate, she mentored many graduate nursing students and post-doctoral fellows at universities across the country. "The Chair Program became the hub of APN research in Canada with strong linkages among graduate students, junior and senior researchers, and policy makers,' she said.

Through the Program, close to 50 research projects were completed with over $3.5 million in research funding. One of the largest projects was an APN-focused decision support synthesis completed in partnership with the executive director of the Office of Nursing Policy at Health Canada, summarizing all Canadian research and international reviews and involving interviews with almost 100 key stakeholders. This work has been published in a peer-reviewed 10-paper special issue of the Canadian Journal of Nursing Leadership:

Advanced Practice Nursing in Canada: Overview of a Decision Support Synthesis

Sue Matthews, former provincial chief nursing officer in Ontario, said: "Alba personifies the ability to bridge the theory to practice gap by ensuring that everything she does connects to the needs of those she serves.'

Erin Leith, the CHSRF's senior advisor of regional capacity development and nursing lead, said DiCenso's leadership in APN is "world renowned' and that she has had "great success in nurturing mutually beneficial partnerships with key health system decision and policy makers,' but that her greatest contribution has likely been "her kind and thoughtful approach to mentoring graduate students.'

The Chair Program is transitioning into the Canadian Centre for APN Research, to be headed by Denise Bryant-Lukosius, an associate professor in the School of Nursing and Department of Oncology. DiCenso will serve as senior advisor to the Centre and will continue as director of the Ontario Training Centre in Health Services and Policy Research (OTC).

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