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This Week in Research: Appointment of Dr. Jennifer Walker, Tier II Canada Research Chair for Indigenous Health

 

Appointment of Dr. Jennifer Walker, Tier II Canada Research Chair for Indigenous Health

Dr. Jennifer Walker’s move to Laurentian University is a welcome addition to the Faculty of Health and our institution’s research environment. Dr. Walker is coming to Laurentian University from Nipissing University. She is a Core Scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and holds an appointment of Assistant Professor (status-only) at the University of Toronto. Dr. Walker is Laurentian’s first Indigenous Canada Research Chair. Her research expertise will complement existing projects within the Centre for Rural and Northern Health Research (CRaNHR) and the Interdisciplinary PhD program in Rural and Northern Health. Dr. Walker has recently been appointed  Laurentian’s CIHR Leader and she looks forward to helping build and support research capacity and intensity within the health sciences. She is currently principal or co-principal investigator on a total of $1 million in competitive research funding. She is PI on a CIHR grant entitled “Unlocking Health Information for Older First Nations Populations”. Through this three-year project, she is working with First Nations partners to generate the first Ontario regional profile of age-related wellness and frailty. She is also co-principal investigator on a three-year study of diabetes in Ontario First Nations that is funded through CIHR and the Ontario Ministry of Health’s Strategy for Patient Oriented Research. She currently supervises two PhD students.

At Laurentian, Dr. Walker will focus her research on Indigenous community-engaged research using large health services databases held by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), where she leads the indigenous health portfolio. She describes her work with ICES in the following terms:  “We’re moving forward on significant research projects using these robust, linked data sets, and always prioritizing Indigenous knowledge, research ethics and governance in our partnerships with First Nations and Métis organizations.” (Credited from ICES Annual Report 2015)

Dr. Walker’s research programs aim to work with First Nations and Metis populations so that they are able to take ownership and control of their health data, thereby leveraging it to the benefit and wellbeing of their people and communities.  She also responds to requests from communities seeking assistance with the use of this data. It is hoped that this data can be used as “medicine to heal” communities which will in turn help inform decision-making surrounding health issues. “First Nations people particularly want to focus on positive health,” explains Dr. Walker. “They see wellness as a holistic thing. So, when you’re asking about one specific condition, people don’t want that one condition to be reflecting the state of their overall health.”(Quotes credited to Dr. Walker, in CIHR article, Dec 22, 2015).

To provide a strong example of her work, she and her colleagues met with 133 First Nation Chiefs and presented them with cancer research and results so that they may act upon it. This was the first presentation of results using data on 200,000 members of First Nations communities. The data are also being used to explore community questions on topics such as prescription opioid use, frailty, diabetes and 18 different chronic diseases.  She has also undertaken important work within the Wikwemikong community on Manitoulin Island. This community is seeking to look further into diabetes related questions and design better community-oriented health services to address the concerns associated with this chronic disease.