Student Spotlight: Chentel Cunningham, recipient of the CIHR Fellowship

Faculty of Nursing PhD candidate is awarded a prestigious Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Fellowship for two years.

Allie Voisin - 17 May 2022

Chentel Cunningham is green and gold, through and through. She attained a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Alberta Faculty of Nursing in 2002. In 2012, she earned a master in nursing with a focus on advanced nursing practices in child health. Today, Cunningham is a PhD candidate in nursing who has dedicated her research to developing evidence-based tools that will better translate research knowledge specifically for parents who have a child with heart failure. 

Throughout her 10 years of advanced clinical practice in children's heart failure and the cardiomyopathy program at the Stollery Children’s Hospital, she noticed a lack of evidence-based knowledge for parents about their child’s cardiac health. 

“Parents and families are the backbone of delivering care in pediatrics and when they lack knowledge about their child’s health condition or treatments, their child’s care suffers in many avoidable ways,” says Cunningham who explains that this realization motivated her to advance her nursing career through graduate studies. 

She now has her eyes set on becoming a clinician-scientist to address unique knowledge gaps by embedding herself in the daily aspects of clinical practice. 

“Nursing research through the lens of an advanced practice nurse is highly valuable, as we combine our advanced nursing knowledge with the holistic needs of the families,” says Cunningham, who is currently a pediatric nurse practitioner at the University of Alberta Hospital. 

Cunningham gives us a glimpse of how this award will impact her research and provides advice for nurses considering pursuing graduate studies at the Faculty of Nursing. 

What was your first thought when you found out you were awarded a prestigious CIHR fellowship?

I was practicing clinically at the time with my cardiology colleague. Honestly, I was in utter shock that I would be chosen for such a prestigious award. It took me two days to accept the award via the research net portal because I had to keep checking the offer letter to make sure it was real!

How will this award impact your research? 

This award will impact my research in such positive ways. It has given me new motivation and reassurance that my doctoral work is important, not only to clinicians and researchers but to the families we interact with every day. It has also given me the confidence that even though I am in a doctoral training stage, I have chosen an area of research that will be impactful to children and families with cardiac disease. 

Do you have any words of advice for fellow graduate students beginning their graduate studies? 

Sometimes your doctoral studies can feel intimidating, but never give up, and use the valuable feedback everyone has given you to improve your research. Winning this award has shown me that nothing is out of reach if you just take the first leap and try. The feedback I received in these competitions from reviewers, my supervisor Dr. Shannon Scott, colleague Dr. Lori West and Dr. Jennifer Conway, as well as my committee members, has been so incredibly valuable. The time they have devoted to helping me garner knowledge in my doctoral studies has led me down a path to becoming a confident nurse scientist.

Surround yourself with like-minded, strong and positive individuals during this process. Being a doctoral student is a tough job sometimes!

Anything you’d like to add? 

I would like to thank my supervisor Dr. Shannon Scott,  the ECHO research lab and my committee members for always providing me with an endless amount of positive vibes, reference letters and feedback each and every time I applied for another award. And trust me there were lots of applications! Dr. Scott has given me endless words of encouragement and shown me strategic ways of highlighting my strengths and research.

Also, the Pediatric Cardiology Division at the Stollery has been a huge support. I also owe my success to my family for their unconditional support and continuously being patient with my long hours of work and study!

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