Spotlight on Carolina Fernandes

Carolina recently spoke to us about her work with the BETTER Institute, visiting communities across Canada and her favorite podcasts.

Danica Erickson - 07 October 2021

Carolina Fernandes joined the Department of Family Medicine research program in 2011 as the study coordinator for the BETTER trial. Carolina is now the executive director of the BETTER Prevention Practitioner Training Institute and the lead coordinator of the BETTER Program. She recently spoke to us about her work with the BETTER Institute, visiting communities across Canada and her favorite podcasts.

Tell us about yourself, Carolina.

I immigrated with my family to Canada 1989, and we lived in Lethbridge. When I was 17, we moved to Edmonton, where we have lived ever since.

I have a master of arts in economics from the University of Alberta and also a master of science in health research methodology from McMaster University. Originally I thought I was going to be an energy economist, but after finishing my economics degree I had the fortune of working with a health researcher and that experience really got me interested in research and health. That’s how I ended up getting my masters of science, and then eventually working with Donna (Manca, director of the family medicine research program).

With the BETTER program I’ve had the chance to travel to different places in Canada I would otherwise never have been to. I’ve travelled to  the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Newfoundland & Labrador. The BETTER Prevention Practitioner Training Institute was funded in 2018 and has two teams; one based in Edmonton and one in Toronto.  As executive director I travelled back and forth . every three months or so and would spend one to two weeks with the Toronto team, so it’s been nice to be home for a bit.

I always planned to return to Edmonton after finishing my MSc, so I would say it was luck and fate that brought me to the department. I was looking for an opportunity to use what I had learned and there happened to be a one-year position available for the BETTER trial. It was my first interview after finishing my MScand I remember thinking that I probably wouldn’t get the position because there were a lot of requirements about knowing how the U of A functions. It was the last year of the BETTER trial and they wanted to make sure things kept going smoothly; not having worked at the U of A before I didn’t think I brought that skill set with me. I knew it would be good practice to apply, so I took a chance and ended up in my initial position as coordinator for the BETTER trial.

What are your other research interests?

I really think health service research in general has been a good focus for me. BETTER, of course, focuses on chronic disease prevention and screening for patients ages 40 to 65, but there are also opportunities to work with more organizations and clinics outside of primary care and develop my skills in implementation research. There are physicians and nurses who lead workplace wellness programs, for example. They have different areas that are of interest because of the populations they serve and would have. different things to consider  when implementing programs. Even under the umbrella of BETTER, I’m interested in what prevention and screening looks like across Canada. What does prevention look like in different populations besides 40 to 65? n workplaces? For different groups? What about secondary prevention? What is actionable in primary care? In public health? In other settings (such as the correctional systems)? These are all really interesting questions to me. 

What inspires you in your work?

The people that I work with. I enjoy my work, but I don’t think I would enjoy it as much if I didn’t get to work with Donna Manca and our other team members and the other research staff in the department. They really make the work enjoyable for me; we can commiserate over the challenges or celebrate the wins. I think that’s what makes it worth it for me.

Can you share a memorable research experience^

I think that the very first time that I started thinking about research being more than trial or observational study research was when we started moving forward with our second study in BETTER. I started facing that dichotomy of obtaining data to get results versus the realities of the setting you are working in. You have to ask yourself if something like this is feasible, or are changes required?  When you are working on a trial, the protocol parameters are set: you can’t change them, they are what they are. Then, we moved to an implementation study and actually started hearing from different settings about their different priorities, dynamics and interpersonal relationships. I think the jump from having the evidence for the program to actually implementing the program is a big challenge. It’s one of the biggest learning curves I have had, and will continue to have, as long as I’m implementing the program in new settings. That stands out to me the most; being more aware that every single setting is different. A solo health practitioner here in Edmonton will have completely different challenges from a solo health practitioner in Labrador. Team practices and Indigenous communities, large and small, are also extremely diverse and have unique challenges and needs. We just have to roll with that.

What three words describe your experience at the U of A?

Challenging, collaborative, busy!

What are your hobbies?

I like to listen to podcasts and 80’s music when I’m doing things around the house just to help the time go by. I like historical topics. I’m currently listening to the podcast The Other Half, which is about women in history. Another one I listen to is You’re Wrong About, which is about events that have happened that people may misremember.

I also crochet; I already have my list of all of the Christmas gifts I want to make for my nieces and nephews.