Understanding risk-taking behaviour amongst Canadian adolescents
Having been a Concurrent Education student at Queen’s University, Jonathan Kwong has always been passionate about child health and research involving the school environment. The MSc in Epidemiology program at Queen’s has given him the tools to answer the research questions that are most important to him.
Since beginning his graduate studies in 2013, Jonathan’s research has been focused on risk-taking behaviour among Canadian adolescents. By using a dataset of approximately 30,000 Canadian students, Jonathan wanted to understand how different types of risk behaviour (smoking, drinking, fighting, unhealthy dietary patterns, physical inactivity, etc.) relate to one another. Under the supervision of Drs. Will Pickett (Public Health Sciences) and Don Klinger (Education), Jonathan sought to answer two important questions: 1) are there predictable patterns of risk behaviour that adolescents take part in, and 2) if so, do those different patterns impact the health of Canadian adolescents? He was also keen to understand whether positive social relationships with peers and teachers could protect students who participate in risk behaviour from getting hurt.
Before choosing the MSc in Epidemiology program, Jonathan spoke to a number of graduates of the program and they all had wonderful things to say about the program. Jonathan states that “having now completed my degree, I would say the same things”. He goes on to add that “the program allows students to learn from one another, and the faculty make a real effort to support their students to be successful in the program, and beyond”.
Jonathan is particularly proud of the work he did with his fellow MSc and MPH students in creating the Public Health Sciences Student Association (PHSSA). Jonathan explains that the PHSSA regularly holds socials and formals, and provides opportunities for professional development, thereby allowing students and faculty to get to know each other in both social and professional settings.
Having now successfully defended his thesis, Jonathan is preparing to start medical school at the University of Toronto. Jonathan is confident that the lessons learned during his MSc will help him critically evaluate medical literature and continue to grow as a research scientist.
Andrew Dabbikeh successfully presents his Biostatistics Practicum Report
Eleanor Hung successfully defends her MSc thesis
Katherine McKenzie successfully defends her MSc thesis
Student’s search for missing data
Laura Holder, a current MSc biostatistics student, has always been interested in public health research and statistics, and she wanted to find a graduate program that combined these two disciplines. For Laura, the Biostatistics Program in the Department of Public Health Sciences seemed like the best fit, since biostatistics can be applied to an immense range of topics and projects.
Laura began her academic career at McMaster University, where she graduated with a BSc in psychology, neuroscience, and behaviour, with a minor in statistics. While completing her undergraduate training, Laura took courses in algebra, calculus, differential equations, probability, statistics, and survey sampling. Laura was drawn to the MSc Biostatistics Program offered in the Department of Public Health Sciences since its curriculum provided both a good foundation in epidemiological research and statistical skill development.
During her 12 month program, Laura has enjoyed the “diversity in coursework, which has been enhanced by the inter-departmental nature of the program”. She notes that the courses offered by the Departments of Public Health Science and Mathematics and Statistics are well integrated and very complementary. The course work has exposed her to a diverse and comprehensive range of subject matter, and she likes the opportunity for collaboration that the small program offers.
For Laura’s practicum, she is working with Dr. Michael McIsaac, whose research interest’s lie in methodology to handle missing data, and Dr. William Pickett, the co-principal investigator on the Health Behaviours in School-Aged Children Survey in Canada (HBSC). The HBSC is a cross-national survey of adolescent health conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organization. Laura explains that “missing data is a virtually inevitable obstacle in survey research, and neglecting to properly account for missing data during analysis may result in false findings and conclusions. Certain characteristics of large complex surveys, like the HBSC, offer unique challenges when dealing with missing data.” Laura’s practicum is focused on the missing data in the HBSC, specifically, how missing data may impact conclusions drawn about the relationship between childhood hunger and certain negative health outcomes.
After graduating from the program, Laura hopes to use the fundamental skills she has developed during her time at Queen’s to work as an analyst for a government or research agency that is involved in informing public health policy development.
Michael Leung successfully defends his MSc thesis
Olivia Meggetto successfully defends her MSc thesis
Big Data: Transforming Medicine
Richard Birtwhistle is a professor in the Queen’s Department of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences, the director of the university’s Centre for Studies in Primary Care, and the chair and principal investigator of the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network (CPCSSN). The network collects patient information stored in electronic medical records (EMR) of primary care practitioners across Canada. Using complex algorithms, CPCSSN brings the data from these different EMR systems together into a consistent format. This enables researchers to use those data to answer questions about the incidence and treatment of diabetes, hypertension, depression, chronic obstructive lung disease, osteoarthritis and other chronic diseases that Canadian family physicians commonly deal with.
Launched in 2008, with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, CPCSSN now consists of more than 800 primary care practitioners – or “sentinels” – in seven provinces and one territory and the de-identified records of almost one million patients across Canada. Each doctor uses an EMR to record their clinical care of patients by inputting information such as body weight, blood pressure, body mass index, health conditions, referrals, risk factors for disease, lab investigations and any prescribed medications. Before any of this information is uploaded to CPCSSN, each patient is assigned a unique CPCSSN number that links them with their personal information, but this information does not leave the practice. Therefore, any data actually used for research remains anonymous.
The type of information collected in EMRs is difficult to get from other data sources (such as the Canada Health Survey), which is why a centralized repository holds such great potential for researchers and makers of health policy. The data are also useful to the network’s family doctors. Remarkably, although EMRs contain loads of information about individual patients, most systems don’t provide physicians with reports that shed light on all their patients as a group. The CPCSSN database provides this capability, thus allowing the doctors to track their patients better and provide better, more personalized care. This, by itself, is enormously useful.
“We have a system where doctors can find out how many people with out-of-control diabetes haven’t been seen in the last six months, then go back and link the CPCSSN numbers with the patients’ IDs and then contact them and get them into the clinic,” says Birtwhistle. “From a quality improvement point of view, it’s actually pretty important.”
Birtwhistle says EMR data that CPCSSN has collected is a gold mine for researchers seeking to learn more about chronic disease in primary care in Canada. Much of the data remain untapped. But CPCSSN’s greatest value may ultimately stem from enabling the data to be linked with other types of medical data, he says.
“Linking patients’ primary care data to genomic data, for example, could open up tremendous potential for understanding not only chronic diseases, but other diseases as well.”
(e)Affect Issue 7 Spring 2015
Drawn to the notion that simple logic and numbers can facilitate our understanding of people, ideas, and events
MSc specializing in biostatistics candidate Andrew Dabbikeh has always had an interest in statistics and the cross over it has with biology. “I am drawn to the notion that simple logic and numbers can facilitate our understanding of people, ideas, and events,” he says. “I am fascinated by the collection and analysis of data to understand and discover past phenomena, which can be used to predict future events. Along with statistics, biology had been an interest of mine since my childhood. This interest spreads across multiple fields of biology, ranging from genetics to physiology to ecology.”