Shannon Scott: Empowering Parents through Research-Based Evidence

Dr. Shannon Scott uses the power of stories to ensure that up-to-date research on child health is placed in the hands of parents, families, healthcare professionals, and policy-makers.

09 October 2019

Parents want to be involved in their children's healthcare, and in order to be included, access to the latest research that is easy to understand has to be readily available.

Unfortunately, in Canada, this isn't always the case.

Dr. Shannon Scott-Professor at the University of Alberta Faculty of Nursing, Canada Research Chair for Knowledge Translation in Child Health, and Stollery Science Lab Distinguished Researcher-is striving to improve health outcomes for Canadian children by directing the best available and relatable child health research where it matters most-into the hands of parents, families, healthcare professionals, and decision-makers. Her mantra to achieve this is simple: never underestimate the power of stories.

Back in 2004, when Dr. Scott was a budding PhD student at the University of Alberta, she began collaborating with Dr. Terry Klassen and Dr. Lisa Hartling in the Department of Pediatrics. At the time, she was busy developing tools by merging the best available research evidence with parents' experiences when Dr. Klassen mentioned an effective method to disseminate research would be through story-telling.

They had to start somewhere. After receiving the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) pediatric emergency medicine grant that provided five years of funding, the storytelling project formed its roots. They decided to create a hard-copy book for parents coping with a child with croup, and since then have turned it into a digital copy.

"We did a randomized control trial testing the effectiveness of the books in terms of knowledge retention, decisional regret with coming to the emergency department, and we also looked at clinical outcomes of kids through that work, which was complemented with qualitative work to understand how the parents used the books or not," explained Dr. Scott.

After positive results, they applied for another grant through CIHR that enabled them to develop three more tools, which led to the creation of whiteboard animation videos. In that process the development of Translating Emergency Knowledge for Kids (TREKK) emerged, which focuses on improving children's emergency care in Canada through a seven-year funded program.

In Canada, over 85% of kids first line of care is through general emergency departments (EDs) instead of a children's hospital like the Stollery. All of the expertise is situated in children's hospitals, but there are only 14-17 children's hospitals across Canada-and that's where TREKK comes in.

"TREKK shares our specialized pediatric emergency knowledge across the country in general EDs and my key focus is on the second arm, which is empowering parents with the best available research evidence," Dr. Scott explained.

In conjunction with TREKK, Dr. Scott led the largest needs assessment of pediatric emergency room departments in 35 general EDs across the country, which allowed her to create an online data collection platform for healthcare providers who work in EDs, as well as parents who bring their children to the EDs.

"We went right into the waiting rooms and talked to over 1000 parents, and those results are actually driving our topic selections for our tools."

Where it all began

Dr. Scott became a pediatric nurse upon graduation at Winnipeg Children's Hospital. She completed her masters in 1998 while working full-time as a nurse and teaching pediatrics.

"Through that work, I saw the power of empowering parents with the best available research evidence and for parents to become mediators in knowledge translation strategies or interventions to actually encourage the best available research use by doctors and nurses. That was sort of the primary impetus for the work," said Dr. Scott.

She knew early on that she wanted to focus solely on child health, which inevitably lead to her specializing in Knowledge Translation (KT) shortly after she began her PhD at the University of Alberta. Working closely with Dr. Carole Estabrooks-who focused on research utilization-melded nicely with Dr. Scott's interest in clinical education.

Dr. Scott quickly noticed how nursing students would use the latest research in clinical, yet when they became fellow colleagues after graduation, they stopped using current research. This motivated her to explore how the work environment influences how nurses used research or not, and that's how she became involved in KT Research, and shortly after, founded her research program Translating Evidence in Child Health to Enhance Outcomes (ECHO).

Through ECHO, Dr. Scott has created 14 tools for parents and families in the form of ebooks, videos, and other resources. These tools-ranging from common conditions, such as ear infections, needle pain, fever, and constipation- include common symptoms and ways parents can help manage from home. Ultimately, these tools are empowering parents, so they don't have to bring their children into an emergency room-while taking a load off of the healthcare staff in the ED's.

Dr. Scott has come a long way, but one of her greatest recent achievements with ECHO is the creation of their parents' advisory group, developed in 2016. The group, which is comprised of 28 parents, is a mechanism to allow members of the public and community to become engaged in ECHO by meeting monthly. The members are actively involved with informing the direction of the research program.

"Not only do they provide input into the tools to refine them, they also help direct new areas of research. In fact, one of the parents actually came with me to a national meeting and co-presented her research findings."

Dr. Scott is excited to see what the future holds for ECHO. As a result of her close collaboration with the Director of Alberta Research Centre for Health Evidence (ARCHE), Dr. Hartling, in December of 2018, the research pair received one million dollars from the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation. This funding has enabled them to have a part-time engagement coordinator that assists with the parent advisory group, tool creation, and hone in on culturally adapting their tools. They plan to develop 14 more tools. Dr. Scott expressed how grateful they are for these "pots of money," which allows them to get one step closer to improving the health outcomes of Canadian children.

"I'm really grateful for the wonderful support here at the University of Alberta from the Faculty of Nursing. The ability to work with such bright and outgoing graduate students and trainees has just been phenomenal."

Dr. Scott's research has been funded by the generous support of the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation through the Women and Children's Health Research Institute. Want to learn more about ECHO research? Visit to explore parent resources, current research projects, and more!