Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nursing professor awarded national grant to study health equity in Canadian public policy

October 16th, 2017
Rankin School of Nursing professor Dr. Elizabeth McGibbon and fourth year honours nursing student Chloe Brennan. Missing from photo is fourth year honours political science student Sandra Petrovic

Dr. Elizabeth McGibbon, a professor in the StFX Rankin School of Nursing, has been awarded $49,800 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to study how health equity is framed in Canadian public policy documents.

This two-year research project is the first of its kind in Canada, and is expected to shed light on some of the reasons why Canada lags behind other countries in targeting public policy to decrease health inequities.

“The goal of the research is to bring forward the ways that we use the term health equity in Canada, and to inform innovations in related public policy,” says Dr. McGibbon, whose overall research focuses on oppression and health outcomes, and the political economy of health. Her research is informed by over 15 years of clinical practice at the pointy edges of injustice.

She says the term health equity is increasingly being used in public policy documents and in the academic literature, but health outcomes for some groups aren’t getting any better. In fact, they’re worsening. 

“Research is already very clear that health outcomes are persistently worse for specific groups of Canadians, often referred to as ‘equity seeking groups.’ These groups include those facing historic disadvantage, such as Indigenous peoples and African Canadians, women, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ2S people,” she says.  

Dr. McGibbon says what particularly excites her is this project has the potential to spark change to move health equity forward more quickly, more urgently.

“The research is very action oriented to inform change,” she says.

“It’s the first time this kind of microscope has been used to look at health equity in Canada.”

Dr. McGibbon worked closely with two StFX undergraduate honours students on the first phase of the project during the summer, Chloe Brennan, a fourth year nursing honours student from Halifax, NS, and fourth year political sciences honours student Sandra Petrovic of Toronto, ON.

“It’s been really interesting and a great experience, very eye-opening,” says Ms. Brennan, a graduate of Halifax West High School, who will also conduct her honours research under Dr. McGibbon’s supervision. “It’s brought a whole other aspect to nursing than what I’m learning in class.”

“It was an honour to work as a research assistant alongside Dr. McGibbon on this important project, which seeks to acknowledge the inequity in health outcomes for equity-seeking groups in Canada,” says Ms. Petrovic, a graduate of Martingrove Collegiate Institute. “Working on this project has expanded my interest in Canadian health policy and furthered my concern for amending public policy in order to reduce health inequity issues present in Canadian society.

“I look forward to seeing how Dr. McGibbon’s research progresses and am excited that the issue of health equity will better reach the attention of the Canadian public.”

Dr. Katherine Fierlbeck, a political science professor at Dalhousie University whose research work includes political science and health systems, is a co-investigator on the project.

Dr. McGibbon says she is pleased to involve StFX students in the research, to provide that rich opportunity for learning and mentorship at the undergraduate level that StFX is so well known for.

Using an institutional enthnography method, the research project involves a mixed method study with a systematic search of the academic literature and gray literature (for example government documents). A second phase will involve interviewing key people in Canada who are leaders in equity seeking groups, who work with equity seeking groups, and policy makers involved with equity informed policy.

“It’s important to me,” Dr. McGibbon says. “It’s a social justice issue that health inequity persists despite Canada’s capacity to address this pressing social concern.”

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