Quality improvement is at the heart of a postdoctoral partnership

Tamara Vineberg - 27 February 2020

Teresa Lightbody is working towards improving conditions for children seeking mental health support in the emergency department.


A partnership between the University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services (AHS) aims to improve mental health services for children in the emergency department. AHS staff member Teresa Lightbody began a one-year postdoctoral fellowship under the supervision of Mandi Newton, professor in the Division of Community and General Pediatrics, and Jennifer Thull-Freedman, clinical associate professor at the University of Calgary.

Lightbody will be focusing her work on the PediAtriC Emergency Mental Health and AddictioNs Care (PACMAN) project, funded in part through the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute. The goal of this project is to change the way children are seen in emergency departments for mental health. Lightbody completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work, and returned to school for a PhD in human ecology at the U of A to help patients and their families more. “I wanted to get back to school in order to learn to effectively make change,” says Lightbody. The next step in her efforts to make a difference is the postdoc.

Newton says the postdoc position was a competitive fellowship. “We had applicants from all over the world. Teresa fit the bill. It’s great because Teresa is already engaged in the PACMAN project in her AHS position. So she already knew about it and is working in the system. I thought that was a unique opportunity to partner with AHS,” adds Newton.

Lightbody was interested in the postdoc because she wants to improve her skills at AHS. The social worker shifted her career focus to data analysis and quality improvement five years ago and is based in community clinics in the Edmonton area. Her passion for quality improvement comes from first-hand experience. “I really want to enhance the services that we provide families. When I was working in children, youth, and families intake services for mental health, I was frustrated by seeing children coming back with similar concerns. We just don’t seem to be effectively addressing it. That’s where the passion comes from—it’s to be better at what we do,” she says.

The postdoc partnership extends to the Alberta Children’s Hospital where Lightbody will receive training through their quality improvement program. Since this U of A fellowship is the first of its kind, Lightbody and Newton are still developing a future path, which can include examining different approaches to quality improvement, using different theoretical frameworks or looking at the intersection of safety and quality improvement. “Jennifer and I will mentor Teresa in terms of where she wants to go. I know she’s interested in grant writing. She can take those quality improvement theories and map it in a ‘plan, do, study and act cycle’,” says Newton.

Newton believes this postdoc fellowship is a great example in investing in someone who can carry the work forward once the project is done. She is encouraging Lightbody to take the time to think about what her interests are, both academically and career-wise. “It’s a time to let ideas percolate. It’s not a time to do busy work all the time, ” she says.

“I feel really lucky to have this and not be rushed. To think about ideas is exciting,” adds Lightbody.