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About the Institute

Profile of Patricia Parkin

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Dr. Patricia Parkin

By: Katrina King

Dr. Patricia Parkin, MD, FRCP(C)

  • Senior Associate Scientist, Child Health Evaluative Sciences
  • Director, Research and Fellowship Program, Paediatric Medicine
  • Associate Professor, Departments of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, Paediatrics and the Institute of Medical Science, University of Toronto

1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I was born and raised in Toronto, such an amazing international place. I went to both the University of Toronto and McMaster University. After my medical degree at McMaster, I did my residency training in London, Ontario and here, at SickKids. I was the chief resident in my last year at SickKids, and I had the privilege to work with people who are now in senior positions at SickKids. When I finished my residency, I realized there was something more I really wanted to do and understand. I wanted to understand both the good things and the bad things about how children’s health care is managed. In the late 1980s, I found myself interested in general issues around children’s health on a population level but I wasn’t sure how to satisfy that need or desire. I finally realized that I wanted to explore the field of clinical epidemiology. For a year, I was funded by SickKids Foundation and was able to do some course work in the clinical epidemiology graduate program at the University of Toronto. This was a pivotal year for me.

2. What are you researching right now?
Currently, I am the director of a research initiative called Paediatric Outcomes Research Team (PORT). The objective of PORT is to advance the evidence base for general paediatric care. There are a couple initiatives within PORT. Firstly, we aim to advance the evidence base pertaining to hospitalized children, ensuring that children who are hospitalized for common paediatric problems received evidence-based care. Secondly, we aim to advance the evidence base around preventive care or primary care for children. Along with two of my colleagues, Catherine Birken and Jonathon Maguire, we have established a primary health-care research network consisting of primary-care physicians in Toronto, serving a diverse population of children. We call this TARGet Kids! We aim to advance our understanding of primary and secondary prevention for common health problems in children under five years of age, placing our initial focus on problems, such as obesity and micro-nutrient deficiency problems, including, iron deficiency or vitamin D deficiency, and screening for early developmental difficulties. As surprising as it seems, there has not been a lot of research conducted about primary and secondary prevention. This creates an enormous gap in knowledge.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
Even though some people would say he wasn’t a scientist, Sir William Osler is someone who I find really inspiring. I read his biography entitled A Life in Medicine, written by Michael Bliss from University of Toronto’s Department of History, a couple of years ago and was really inspired. Most of us growing up learned about William Osler because he was one of the most renowned Canadian doctors, honoured by many institutions. Many people note that he was an outstanding physician and teacher; however, I believe he was also an extraordinary observer and if he had lived until today he would have been a clinical epidemiologist. He also loved children, and did not believe in specialization, so he looked after children as well as adults. Since I am a generalist, and adhere to some of the fundamental principals of being a generalist, I found it really inspiring to learn about Osler. He was an incredible critical thinker, generalist, humanitarian and Canadian.

4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
The most important breakthrough for me, as a practitioner and applied researcher, was the concept of evidence-based medicine, coined in 1992 by researchers at McMaster University. I think it has been listed as one of the most important breakthroughs in the past 10 years. This has changed the way we practice and undertake research intended to advance practice and policy.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I love being outside and in nature, whether it is skiing in the mountains, biking to work, kayaking, or canoeing. I have been reading about the phenomenon ‘nature deficit disorder’ and I really believe it. Being outside somehow really allows you to reset your brain, allowing you to think clearly and creatively.

6. Why science?
As a paediatrician and clinician, I love looking after children and providing direct patient care. I think, however, that there are other ways we can advance the health of children beyond our own individual doctor-patient relationship. That is the appeal of being in research – you have the opportunity to influence the lives of many children and not just one at a time. The two are so aligned. It’s a wonderful opportunity to think about them synergistically.

7. Why SickKids?
SickKids is a really amazing place. If there is anything you want to think about or ask someone about, there is likely someone here who can assist you. There is always an opportunity for collaboration and partnership. From every aspect of the institution, it is a place that is truly dedicated to children. It is really an attractive place when you have had long ties at SickKids and have done your training here.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
The dearth of high-level and rigorous scientific evidence to directly inform practice and policy is fairly significant and I think it really needs to be advanced. The controversy is how do we do it? How do we make those advancements so that we can truly translate scientific advancements into improving the lives of Canadian children?

9. What are you reading right now?
I love reading the newspaper and being aware of what is going on in our community, nationally and internationally. When I get a chance to pick up a book I want to read something inspiring. I find I pick up books that my son is reading in school. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic. Classic books including children, integrity, honesty and social justice are truly timeless.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
You must follow your passion. People will give you advice along the way, but you really have to follow your heart and do what your heart tells you. That’s the only thing that will make you genuinely satisfied.

11. What does the Research & Learning Tower mean to you?
One of the exciting things about the Research Tower is that researchers will be in the same place, collaborating with other like-minded people. We are in this incredible electronic world but I think most people recognize that being physically close to people, both your own team and other teams, nourishes collaboration. Geographical closeness provides amazing opportunities and is a strength for the institution.

July 2011

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