Fellowship offers inside look at policy process

21 October 2013

As the first recipient of an MSFHR/CIHR Science Policy Fellowship, Noreen Kamal had the unique opportunity to work alongside provincial health policy-makers during a six-month placement in the BC Ministry of Health.

“Working provincially on policy, you have the potential to make a huge difference, because that’s really where the health policies hit the ground,” she says.

Kamal, who recently completed her PhD in electrical and computer engineering at UBC, was embedded in the BC Ministry of Health with a specific focus on developing policy recommendations to address emergency department overcrowding.

Working under the supervision of Dr. Kelly Barnard, Kamal was tasked with conducting a literature review of existing evidence related to emergency department overcrowding. The review identified a significant body of evidence, including several multi-centre trials exploring the causes and effects of emergency department overcrowding in a variety of jurisdictions.

>> Read more: "Science policy fellow uses evidence to engineer change"

>> Video: MSFHR/CIHR Science Policy Fellowship

>> Application info: 2013 Science Policy Fellowships

From the literature review, Kamal and Bernard developed a conceptual framework examining the emergency department as part of the larger health system. Much of the evidence identified the flow of patients in and out of hospitals as the root cause of overcrowding, suggesting that efforts to improve emergency department efficiency will have little effect if the underlying issues are not addressed.

“Our first goal was to show policy-makers the larger issues at hand and explain that we cannot look at the emergency department without looking at everything else,” Kamal says.

Over the course of the fellowship, Kamal drafted two discussion papers examining the evidence for specific policies. The first of these papers focused on policy options to address the use of emergency departments by low acuity patients, while the second explored emergency department use by individuals with mental illness. Kamal had the opportunity to present her findings to BC Ministry of Health staff as part of the ministry’s Knowledge Exchange Research Rounds series.

For Kamal, the fellowship provided an ideal opportunity to gain first-hand understanding of how policy decisions are made while undertaking policy-oriented health services research.

“I think what this fellowship allows is the proliferation of policy research,” she says. “For me to take six months off my doctoral studies and look at things purely from a policy perspective is beneficial to me and it’s beneficial to policy research in general.”

While six months is a relative blink of the eye in the context of policy development, Kamal is hopeful her work will provide an evidence-based framework from which future planning and action can emerge.

Applications now open for 2013 fellowships

For 2013, MSFHR is partnering with CIHR and the CIHR Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health to offer 14 policy assignments across BC. Placements are available in the BC Ministry of Health, the First Nations Health Authority, Island Health, and Interior Health. More information about the policy assignments and application process is available on the MSFHR website. Applications to this program must be submitted to CIHR by December 16, 2013.

Kamal’s advice to this year’s Science Policy Fellows?

“Build linkages with academics and policy-makers. I think that this is the key to evidence-based policy. I did this during my tenure, and I hope the relationships will continue.”

She also encourages researchers to maximize their opportunities to interact with colleagues in and around their host department.

“Try to meet up with a lot of people within the branch that you’re in, and also go outside that branch to get a better understanding,” she says. “Don’t be shy to go out there and talk to people around issues and policy that they’re working on.”