Faculty member recognized for excellence in complementary medicine research

Pediatrics researcher wins prestigious Dr. Rogers Prize

Raquel Maurier - 1 October 2013

A Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry researcher who is studying the health effects of acupuncture, massage, spinal manipulation and other forms of complementary medicine in sick children and adults, has been awarded the $250,000 Dr. Rogers Prize for Excellence in Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Sunita Vohra received the award in Vancouver last week. She is a researcher in the Department of Pediatrics, a practising pediatrician, and the director of the CARE (Complementary and Alternative Research and Education) program, Canada's first academic pediatric integrative medicine program. Winning this award comes just one week after she was inducted into the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences

"It's overwhelming to win the Dr. Rogers Prize," says Vohra. "I really don't have another word to describe it. It's astonishing and amazing. My colleagues in the field are incredible, so it's humbling to be recognized amongst that group because of the fantastic work they've done.

"I'd like to recognize my team - there is nothing I do alone, so I think something like the Dr. Rogers Prize recognizes the efforts of a group, not an individual. They are so hard-working and so enthusiastic. I have to run to keep up with them. I am very grateful to be working with them."

Vohra said she hopes the impact of her research advances patient care by providing physicians with more evidence-based information about effective complementary medicines and practices to share with their patients.

"It absolutely matters what the patient wants, what the patient believes, what the patient prefers, and to that end, this field matters. Often [using complementary medicine] is a choice the patient is making, so it's very useful for physicians to have evidence about what works and what doesn't, what's safe and what's not."

She hopes patients find this information valuable, knowing today's health-care consumers are very well informed and web savvy. Ultimately, she hopes the research findings make it easier for patients and doctors to talk to each other about complementary medicine use - that it's not something they need to be reluctant to discuss.

"I think for physicians to feel more comfortable, it starts with having that discussion with your patients about what they are doing, and what interests them, and what questions they have. I think sometimes as physicians it can be hard to know how to broach this topic, especially if they feel they don't have the training, and they themselves are feeling overwhelmed by it all.

"There are some excellent resources in this field that provide high-quality evidence that can help guide and inform those discussions. I think it starts by talking to your patient, and making the extra effort to go and learn about these therapies, and bring information back to the patient in a meaningful way, so the patient knows her doctor is listening, and wants to talk to her about therapies that matter to her."

Vohra is currently working on a number of complementary medicine studies. She just started a new study this week at the Stollery Children's Hospital . She is researching the effectiveness of "integrative medicine" given to kids with anxiety, pain, nausea and vomiting. The children will receive standard physician care at the hospital, as well as complementary therapies such as massage, acupressure, acupuncture and Reiki.

She is also working on various other studies looking at: the benefits of mindfulness for high-risk youth; the safety of spinal manipulation therapy; the effectiveness of melatonin as a sleep aid for kids with Attention Deficit Disorder; the effectiveness of probiotics for preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea in children; and whether there are clinically relevant interactions between natural health products and drugs in cancer patients and those with mental health conditions.