Shannon Scott reflects on 10 years as Canada Research Chair

Faculty of Nursing professor is profoundly grateful for the collaborative relationships her team has built with families, putting multiple health-care tools and resources into the hands of those who need them most.

10 May 2023

As a child growing up in rural Manitoba, Shannon Scott had big dreams — to one day make an impact much larger than the little life she was leading. Today, looking back at the past 10 years as Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Knowledge Translation in Children’s Health, she still feels surprised at just how much she’s accomplished. Saying goodbye brings bittersweet feelings — deep joy about all she’s done, and sadness at all the work that still remains — as the role comes to an end this June.

“I’m very sad that the CRC is coming to a close,” says Scott, professor and acting vice-dean in the Faculty of Nursing, and member of the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute (WCHRI). “The opportunity to have been a Canada Research Chair for the past 10 years has been the highlight of my career to date.” 

The CRC gave her the time and space to focus on knowledge mobilization in a way that changed the direction of Scott’s career in profound and surprising ways, she says. While she stresses that she has always loved teaching — and always will — being released from some of those responsibilities allowed her the time to dig much more deeply into her work, enabling her and her team to help families around the world to an extent she never could have thought possible.

The power of shared knowledge

Scott has always been drawn to the field of knowledge mobilization, motivated by the passion to ensure equity in access to health care for all — especially the youngest and most vulnerable among us. “It shouldn't matter where a child lives in this country, whether they live in an urban, rural or remote setting,” she stresses. “I want to empower all families to help their children get the health care that they need.”

Early in her career, her plan was to create and share important research-to-practice tools with other health professionals, who could then use them in their work with families. But when patient-engagement research began to gain traction right around the same time she began as CRC, she turned her attention to working directly with patients — a shift that ushered in the most professionally rewarding period she has experienced in a career full of accomplishments and accolades.

Thanks to the CRC, Scott, along with Terry Klassen and other colleagues, helped develop Translating Emergency Knowledge for Kids (TREKK), a national knowledge mobilization platform of which she is co-director. She and her team also designed a series of videos, interactive infographics and e-books about common childhood health conditions, to help parents make the best possible decisions about their kids’ care. They use social media to share the release of each tool, and have worked closely with Alberta Health Services to have the informative videos screened in more than 380 centres  — including emergency departments and clinics — around Alberta. Each month these videos reach more than 900,000 viewers. 

As a measure of success, those numbers only scratch the surface. Add to them two very large research grants, to the tune of $3.5 million — seven years of funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and a grant from the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through WCHRI. During her time as CRC, Scott was principal investigator on 24 more grants, working alongside the 20 undergraduate, 19 master’s and 20 PhD students, and six postdoctoral fellows she has supervised. Together during this time, they have produced more than 135 manuscripts and more than 300 presentations delivered around the world. 

Scott is filled with pride and gratitude at having had a hand in building this capacity within the health-research community. “I look at the resources we’ve developed, and they’re being used in more than 100 countries around the globe including other parts of Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Pakistan,” she says. In fact, some of the tools have been downloaded more than 100,000 times per year. “We’ve also won five national awards.” 

Leveraging authentic collaboration

While these numbers are impressive, what is most meaningful and memorable to Scott is the authentic collaboration that is behind her program’s success — collaboration with those many researchers she has mentored and worked alongside, and with thousands of parents over the years. 

In 2016, together with fellow Stollery Science Lab Distinguished Researcher Lisa Hartling, Scott formed a parent advisory group that would quickly come to be the foundation of their patient-engaged research. To this day, the group meets monthly and continues to inform the work. “These parents are deciding which topics we develop tools on, providing feedback every step of the way,” says Scott. “It is a true example of a research partnership. The CRC has given me the freedom of time to forge, develop and sustain those relationships, and every one of those people has been part of the creation of new knowledge.” The appreciation goes both ways, she notes. “Parents have said to us how valued they feel having their voices heard, how much they appreciate being meaningfully involved in research, and being part of the solution.”

As she turns the corner at the end of this journey, it’s those parents — and the thousands around the world relying on the resources her team has created — to whom Scott continues to feel such a responsibility. The biggest challenge over the past 10 years has been figuring out what to prioritize, she recalls, “because everything seemed to be a priority.” And that challenge is not going away. “There’s still a huge demand to develop more resources,” she says. “This is definitely my life’s work.”

Carrying the work forward

Thankfully, that life’s work is now being carried forward by the many researchers she has mentored. “It’s very inspiring, when I look at the students I’ve supervised,” says Scott. Many are now in academic and research roles in places as far flung as Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and Ireland. “It gives me hope that the impact will live on.” 

It is profoundly satisfying to Scott that she has created a training environment that cultivates learning for so many up-and-coming researchers. “My students all know I have their back, so they can grow to their own potential and succeed. I have always told them I play the long game — of course I want them to graduate, but I’m most interested in helping them develop lifelong careers, making a difference to Canadian families and children.”

These days, Scott is looking forward to a new chapter in her own lifelong career, one that will begin with a period of discernment during a sabbatical starting in July. She’ll use the time to focus on her research, take a few trips — including one to University College Dublin as a visiting professor (an experience postponed due to the pandemic) — and “take stock of what comes next.”

Wherever her career path takes her in the coming months and years, Scott says she will always have “the fire in my belly, thanks to the families I’ve worked with, the children I know we’re helping, and even my younger self.” And as more researchers come up to join her — perhaps even some who used to be little girls with big dreams like she once was — she has a message for them all: “Find allies to support you; I will be one of them. And never lose sight of your dreams.”

The University of Alberta is the top institution in Canada for nursing and ranked fifth worldwide according to the latest QS World University Rankings by Subject. Our world-leading Faculty lead cutting-edge research and teaching that's changing the face of global health.  Learn more