Congratulations to Hannah O’Rourke (’08), who was recently awarded Canada’s most prestigious scholarship for doctoral students—the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. She is one of 167 doctoral students in Canada and one of just 11 at the University of Alberta to receive the Government of Canada's award.
O’Rourke’s area of research is in knowledge translation as a mechanism to improve well-being and quality of life for older adults with dementia. The award will be used to fund her doctoral research project, Investigating relationships among RAI-MDS quality indicators for residents in long-term care
, which will examine quality indicators used in long-term care settings across Canada.
“These quality indicators represent the proportion of residents within a long-term care unit or facility that experienced a particular problem, such as pain, falls, or depression, during the last three months,” says O’Rourke. “There are 25 indicators, and most facilities can focus on improving just one or two indicator areas per year.” She plans to observe residents with dementia to determine which quality indicator areas contribute most consistently and intensely to resident well-being and quality of life. “These indicator areas may be seen as higher priority when caring for persons with dementia, providing guidance for clinicians to use the indicators to improve quality of resident care,” says O’Rourke.
O’Rourke’s co-supervisors, Drs. Kimberly Fraser and Wendy Duggleby, are delighted that she’s been selected to receive the Vanier and believe that her dissertation research will enhance the quality of life of seniors in Canada. “Hannah is extremely deserving of this very prestigious award,” says Fraser and Duggleby. “As supervisors, it is rare to work with a student who is as talented a researcher as Hannah.”
“It’s an amazing honour to receive this award,” says O’Rourke. “I’ll be able to focus on my research full-time and to continue to connect with people who have dementia through community involvement within a clinical setting, but in a volunteer capacity.” She considers herself to be in a privileged position. “Volunteering gives me the ability to sit and visit people with dementia, to listen to them and hear their stories, allowing me to get to know them on a more personal level. When working as a paid clinician, you don’t always have that luxury of time.”
What does the future hold for O’Rourke, who also holds a KT Canada STIHR fellowship and AHFMR studentship? Ultimately, she would like to develop a research program that focuses on care for people with dementia. “I believe that this is an important healthcare area to examine,” she says. “Individuals with later stage dementia are often in an institutional setting and have obvious impairments, which put them in a vulnerable position.” O’Rourke believes that a research program, like the one she hopes to develop, will allow health care providers to be as responsive to dementia patients’ needs as possible. “When patients, due to their impairments, can’t speak up for themselves, health care providers need to put extra attention into their care. I hope my research will guide providers as to which areas of care they may want to focus their attention on.”
The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship program aims to attract and retain world-class doctoral students by supporting students who demonstrate both leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies. Vanier scholars receive $50,000 annually for up to three years, and each was chosen as a result of their demonstrated leadership skills and high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies in the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and engineering and health research.