Research project geared at improving HPV vaccination rates secures major award

06 December 2022

Laura Reifferscheid sat in disbelief and stared at her phone. Research Net had locked her out. She was at her son’s hockey tournament and had just received an email from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) that the names of the doctoral awards recipients had been posted.

But Reifferscheid—who had submitted a proposal—couldn’t open the results and the long weekend started the next day—no time for troubleshooting. Thankfully, she received an email from her supervisor, Shannon MacDonald, an associate professor in the Faculty of Nursing

And the conversation that followed was a blur. Reifferscheid’s research had just gotten a major boost from the prestigious CIHR Doctoral Award-Canada Graduate Scholarship.

“It was very exciting. I didn’t expect it, so I’m still kind of riding a high,” says Reifferscheid, whose background in community health and nursing led her to pursue graduate studies. “I wanted to see a bigger picture of the impact that I was seeing day-to-day was making in the lives of my patients.” 

We sat down with Reifferscheid to learn more about her research—focused on increasing human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates among school-aged children and adolescents—the impact the CIHR scholarship will have on it, and her future goals.

Why did you choose to pursue graduate studies at the U of A Faculty of Nursing?

As a nurse, I always worked in community health, in settings that focus on providing care to underserved and hard-to-reach populations. Through these experiences, I got to see how important it is to coordinate with different organizations and provide support to people who need it. But that is often easier said than done! My interest in exploring and supporting these opportunities for coordination is what led me to graduate studies. I wanted to see beyond the day-to-day things we get caught up in. Dr. MacDonald was a big factor in my choice to continue with graduate studies. I admire the work she is doing and I was excited to keep working with her.

What does your doctoral work examine?

My doctoral work is geared toward improving HPV immunization rates in our communities. I am focusing on identifying ways to reach individuals who are not vaccinated through the school program and trying to identify ways outside of school that we provide vaccination services. 

Specifically, I hope to get a better picture of who is vaccinated and who is not, and identify opportunities both within and outside the health-care system to provide vaccination services. Through this work, I am also hoping to develop a picture of different health and social organizations that are focused on providing care to the youth population and see how they are connected.

What motivated you to pursue this research?

HPV vaccination actually represents an intersection of different areas of health I am interested in. It’s about sexual health, cancer prevention and reaching a population (youth) that is often not the easiest group to engage in preventive health interventions.

As a nurse, this population is the one that spoke to me the most. Managing health is not something that is top of mind for this age group, but it is something that can make a big difference later on in life. 

What do you hope to achieve by the end of three years with the help of this award?

This award is huge and it provides me with the protected time I need to conduct my research. It gives me encouragement, which is just as important! By the end of the three years, I want my research to be able to help clarify the work that the health-care system is doing—and not doing—with this population, both for HPV vaccination and more generally. I’m hoping this work can be used to identify and provide ways to improve care. 

What are your academic aspirations for the future?  

I am hoping to explore my options in government, university or research. After completing my PhD, I plan to seek out a post-doctoral fellowship. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

I wouldn’t have had this opportunity without the support of Dr. MacDonald. She is a special person to have on your team and her whole team is really supportive. It makes all the difference in the world.

Revive your passion for nursing by pursuing your master’s or doctorate degree. Gain the credentials needed for positions in advanced nursing, education, leadership and/or research training while you continue to work. Apply for Fall 2023: