April to June 2016

Another academic year has come to a close. Our 10th anniversary celebrations continue apace with many activities during the second quarter. Our faculty renewal is in full swing and several searches have been completed. Students and faculty alike reap awards and honours, and despite the fiercely competitive research funding environment in Canada, we continue to succeed.

On June 8, we celebrated the convocation of 40 MPH, six MSc, two PhD students together with their families and friends. A list of graduates (and new alumni) can be found on our website. I invite you to view the Flickr photo album, video of students and profiles of two students.

International conference addresses remote health care challenges

In April, a conference on Transforming Health Care in Remote Communities organized by the School attracted over 140 participants from seven countries, including representatives of academic institutions, health care agencies, government ministries, community organizations, and private industry. The conference focused on developing solutions to health care challenges in remote regions in northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland, the Nordic countries and Australia. It enabled new networks to be established and consolidated existing ones. Glen Abernethy, Minister of Health and Social Services of the Northwest Territories delivered opening remarks. Read more about the conference in this news article and view the photos in our Flickr album.

Strong presence again at CPHA annual conference

Once again, the School had a strong presence at the annual conference of the Canadian Public Health Association held in Toronto in June. In what has become the conference’s highlight, our networking reception attracted over 50 conference delegates and several Toronto area alumni. Our booth at the exhibitors’ area enabled our staff and student volunteers to promote our graduate and professional development programs and the International Forum on Public Health Education planned for November later this year. The deadline for abstract submission is August 3, so be sure to submit your abstract before then.

Among presentations by several faculty and students, PhD student Nicole Kain’s research on risk communication by family physicians in natural disasters was highlighted on CTV News.

The dean and vice-dean attended the meeting of the Network of Schools and Programs in Public Health (NSPPH). As more Canadian universities launch graduate and undergraduate programs in public health, the NSPPH has an increasingly important role in addressing issues such as core competencies and quality assurance. Faith Davis was elected to the network’s executive.

Faculty recruitment continues in high gear

We welcome two new assistant professors that have just joined us.

Elaine Hyshka, who started on April 1, received her MA in sociology from the University of Toronto and PhD in public health from the University of Alberta. As a student in the School, she received major awards from the university (including the Killam Prize and the Killam Scholarship), an Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions studentship, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship.

Hyshka has been appointed scientific director of the Royal Alexandra Hospital’s Inner City Health and Wellness Program. Her research focuses on advancing a public health approach to substance misuse in partnership with policy makers, practitioners and community organizations.

Shelby Yamamoto, who started on July 1, received her MSc in occupational and environmental health from the University of Toronto, and her PhD in epidemiology from the University of Heidelberg in Germany. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Heidelberg, she was a research fellow at Imperial College London, followed by an appointment as lecturer in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She has done research on air pollution and indoor air quality in Africa and Asia.

During the past several months, various search committees have been busy reviewing applications for faculty positions in health economics, social epidemiology and the epidemiology of foodborne diseases. Faculty, staff and students had the unusual opportunity to listen to a series of interesting presentations on diverse topics by highly qualified candidates. The outcome of these searches will be announced in the coming weeks.

I also want to pass on the good news that we received $150,000 in new base budget funding from the provost and vice-president (academic) to be used for faculty renewal. We also anticipate starting recruitment in biostatistics in the fall.

Researchers and students secure new funding

The announcement by CIHR of its project scheme live-pilot results, with an all-time low success rate of 13%, led to both disappointment and jubilation among our faculty, a phenomenon that was observed in universities across the country. We are delighted to report that Cindy Jardine received $1.36 million over four years for her project on risk communication among indigenous youths, while Yan Yuan was awarded $178,000 over two years to study risk prediction for premature ovarian insufficiency among childhood cancer survivors. Candace Nykiforuk and Kim Raine received $100,000 in bridge funding for their Health, Prevention and Policy Environment (HAPPEN) project.

Thankfully, there are other funding sources besides CIHR that our faculty have applied to and succeeded in. The Canada Foundation for Innovation awarded Nicholas Ashbolt $1.5 million to build a pipe biofilm and molecular facility for environmental pathogens. Norman Neumann was successful in the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery grant program, with an award of $34,000 to study microbial adaptation and evolution towards host specificity. Neumann and Ashbolt’s team also received $750,000 from Alberta Innovates - Energy and Environment Solutions for their project on microbial risk associated with storm water reuse. It is worth noting that additional funding will also be provided by the City of Calgary and City of Edmonton, which clearly recognized the project’s potential applications.

Tania Bubela (with Chris McCabe) received $2 million from Genome Canada for their Precision Medicine Policy network. The BioCanRx Network of Centres of Excellence also awarded her $350,000 to study the design of policies and practices in the translation of novel cancer therapies.

The research funding environment is increasingly dire. At the provincial level, uncertainties over the reorganization and merging of the “family” of Alberta Innovates funding agencies and severe funding cuts from the provincial government have led to reduction of current research support and delays in launching new programs. Nationally, CIHR is also in turmoil, with the recent spectacle of researchers in open revolt over changes to the peer review system and the unprecedented intervention by the federal health minister in the dispute.

On the bright side, our students continue to do well in receiving local, provincial and national scholarships, attesting to the quality of students we attract. A full list of recipients of scholarships and student awards is available for viewing. For the first time, all three national research councils support our students, a reflection of the multidisciplinary character of our School. These are listed here with the names of their supervisors in brackets:

  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council: Lisa Tink (Nykiforuk)
  • Natural Sciences and Engineering Research: Michael Grossi (Ashbolt), Catherine Mitran (Yanow)
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research: Hannah Jones (Hawkes); Alexa Ferdinands (Raine); Jessica Baedke (Yasui); Catherine Mitran (Yanow); Rachel Prowse (Raine)

Outstanding achievements recognized

Faculty, students and alumni continue to be recognized for their scholarship and service to the community.

Zubia Mumtaz has been selected as one of seven recipients of the Killam Annual Professorship, awarded by the University to outstanding faculty members for their contributions to research, teaching and service.

Anna Brown (MPH '16) was among the recipients of this year's Robert Wood Johnson Award at the National Health Care Leadership Conference of the Canadian College of Health Leaders. The award is presented to one student from each of six Canadian universities offering graduate programs in health services administration.

The Cy Frank Distinguished Service Award was presented to Douglas Wilson, professor emeritus, by the Friends of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in conjunction with the visit of Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse to the University of Alberta. Nurse was the former PhD supervisor of Stephanie Yanow at University College London. She is very likely the only University of Alberta professor to have been personally mentored by a Nobel laureate.

Three recent graduates—Kathryn Dong (MSc '07), Ginetta Salvalaggio (MSc '08) and Elaine Hyshka (PhD '16)—received the Alberta Health Services President's Excellence Award for Innovation. Members of the Addiction Recovery and Community Health (ARCH) team, they provide patient-centered, evidence-based and holistic care for Royal Alexandra Hospital patients who are socially vulnerable and/or dealing with substance use. The team also runs a small transitional clinic designed to safely bridge patients from an acute care to a community based setting.

Former Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health and School Adjunct Professor James Talbot received the President’s award from the Public Health Physicians of Canada for his outstanding contribution to the profession of public health and preventive medicine. Recently installed with an office in the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy, Talbot will provide much needed advice to the School as well as participate in teaching.

Vice-Dean Faith Davis was featured in Alberta Venture magazine among the 50 Most Influential People in Alberta in 2016 for her groundbreaking research on rare cancers and environmental exposures. Also named was Tim Caulfield, who is jointly appointed by the School and the Faculty of Law, for his public crusade against junk science and medical quackery.

Updates and other news

The Fellowship in Health System Improvement executive program is ramping up towards its launch in September. Erin Hamilton has been recruited as continuing education associate to assist program director Don Philippon.

The School of Public Health Alumni Chapter is going strong. In June, it hosted a public event called Rethinking our approach to substance use. Moderated by radio host Ryan Jespersen, the panel featured School researcher Elaine Hyshka alongside the deputy chief of the Edmonton Police Service, a city councilor, and a family physician. You may view the photos in our Flickr album.

We are delighted that recently appointed Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Karen Grimsrud has accepted our invitation to serve on the School’s External Advisory Council.

MPH student Ima Anugom has been hired as intern until December. Among her tasks is to help Felicity Hey in compiling background data needed for our re-accreditation next year.

Jeff Johnson was elected chair of the Faculty Evaluation Committee. Les Hagen has been contracted by the School to consult broadly to develop a strategy to strengthen partnerships with health care agencies, government ministries, private industry and the non-governmental sector.

Finally, a reminder or two …

I would like to remind the School community to submit nominations for the Staff Recognition Award [deadline August 15, 2016]. Finally, I encourage you to donate to the Dean’s Anniversary Fund. It is our annual fund named to mark the School’s 10th anniversary. The fund will be used to enhance and support the educational experience of students enrolled in programs offered by the School.



Kue Young, Dean