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Knowledge translation in action

By Lucas Bailey

Knowledge translation (KT) closes the gap between science and practice.  KT strategies and processes can help to create shorter transfer times and greater efficiencies while maintaining the best evidence and outcomes to ensure research is used in the real world.  At SickKids, knowledge translation is a top priority; for Dr. Melanie Barwick and Sarah Bovaird at the SickKids Learning Institute, KT is a daily responsibility.

Barwick, Scientific Director of Knowledge Translation for the Child Health Evaluative Sciences program of the Research Institute, earned her PhD in educational psychology from McGill University and later completed post-doctoral fellowships in developmental psychology and infant mental health at The Hincks-Dellcrest Centre in Toronto.

Bovaird, Knowledge Translation and Exchange Specialist until May 2012, is now the Business Manager for the Learning Institute. She holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from McGill University and a master’s of public health from the University of Sydney, Australia.

One way the Learning Institute team supports KT is by improving the KT skills of individuals within the KT profession. These are people who work to support the link between research and practice in NGOs, hospitals, universities, and community-based organizations. The first of its kind in North America, the Knowledge Translation Professional Certificate (KTPC™) is aimed at developing the competencies of KT practitioners in such disciplines as health, education, prevention/promotion and agriculture.  

Barwick, Bovaird and Kelly McMillen, Director of the Learning Institute, worked to make the certificate a reality, bringing together an advisory group, developing the evaluation plan and business model. The inaugural KTPC course was held in January 2011. By summer 2012, 45 participants had graduated from the program, receiving a certificate of completion from the University of Toronto Continuing Education and Professional Development office.

”The Learning Institute is committed, together with the Research Institute and clinical areas, to support KT activities at SickKids” says McMillen. “The KTPC is a unique program that is helping SickKids lead the way in KT training and education.”

Here Barwick and Bovaird talk about knowledge translation and education at SickKids:

How would you explain knowledge translation to a child?

SB: In health care, knowledge translation ensures that a nurse or a doctor gives information or treatment based on the newest and best research discoveries. It also goes beyond the hospital walls, for example to help politicians create rules that are based on research discoveries, and to provide information to people like teachers, parents and police to help them do their job.

What is an interesting example of knowledge translation?

One of my favourite examples is the development of Sprinkles by Dr. Stanley Zlotkin.  When asked by UNICEF for a solution to help reduce iron deficiency in children in developing countries, he drew on evidence and determined that iron deficiency is not a problem for children in developed countries because of their access to fortified food. He created small sachets of iron called Sprinkles to be added to the food of children in developing countries and used advocacy skills and implementation science to make sure the program was sustainable. By 2009, four million children around the world had received packages of Sprinkles.

How does learning make SickKids a better place?

MB: Learning makes every place better! At SickKids, we focus on many learners – students at all levels, our workers who wish to stay on top of their fields, and our families who need to learn information to cope with the problems that bring them through our doors. I think one thing that sets us apart is that our Learning Institute provides the infrastructure, support and expertise to share learning.

Which education initiative at SickKids inspires you?

 The overall concept and work of the Learning Institute as a collective. Very few hospitals formalize learning by creating a specific institute. I think this illustrates that learning is as important as research and patient care, and that all three work together to make kids healthier.
SB:   The new Centre for Research and Learning which will have an entire concourse where learning can happen in flexible room space with the assistance of audiovisual equipment. It will be a fantastic place to learn!

What makes working at SickKids special?

Constantly learning about the achievements of inspiring and interesting people and knowing that you are making a difference to children’s futures.
MB: The opportunity I have every day to do the work I believe is important, in a supportive, creative, innovative and warm environment. Also, to see innovation come to life in a way that makes a contribution and helps people.

How do you think education will change in the future?

I think we will move more into technological tools to support continued professional learning and core learning. People – at SickKids and elsewhere – need relevant knowledge in real time, in the format they want, and in ways that they find highly engaging.  Technological innovations are helping us do this.
SB: I think we will move away from the traditional didactic model. There is evidence to show that learners increase their knowledge and skills if they receive theory, discussion, demonstration, practice, feedback and coaching in real-life settings.

Who is your all-time favourite educator and why?

I would recognize Dr. Bruce Ferguson as my mentor and educator in my professional life.  Drs. Stanley Zlotkin and Rosemary Tannock are favorites because of their courage and innovation, having global impact through their knowledge translation activities that change how we deal with such diseases as anemia and ADHD. Lastly, I am continually learning from the people who surround me in my daily work – my team, my colleagues, my kids.  It’s really never ending!
SB: Dr. Joe Schwarcz is one of my all-time favourite educators. He taught a series of classes called the World of Chemistry at McGill University and I took almost all of them as an undergrad. His ability to translate chemical reactions into real-world examples inspired my interest in knowledge translation.