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Chair a first for School of Nursing

[Elizabeth VanDenKerkhof]
Elizabeth VanDenKerkhof is the first Sally Smith Chair in Nursing, which was created as part of a $10-million donation to Queen’s by A. Britton Smith and named after his wife Edith “Sally” (Carruthers) Smith. (University Communications)

Elizabeth VanDenKerkhof is excited about being appointed the Sally Smith Chair in Nursing, but she also knows that there are expectations that come with the position.

She is the first to hold the chair after all.

Fortunately, Dr. VanDenKerkhof points out, she isn’t alone in this new journey.

“It’s exciting but it’s a little bit daunting because I want to be successful and I will because this is a very supportive environment and I have some great colleagues with whom I have worked with over the years, whether it’s research or supervising students,” she says.

The Sally Smith Chair in Nursing was created as part of a $10-million donation to Queen’s by A. Britton Smith, a continuing supporter of the university. The chair is named after his wife Edith “Sally” (Carruthers) Smith, who died in June 2012 after a courageous battle with cancer. The funding also helped create the Smith Chair in Surgical Research and the Britton Smith Chair in Surgery, as well as to support the revitalization of Richardson Stadium. It represents the largest donation to the School of Nursing in its 74-year history.

Dr. VanDenKerkhof says the establishment of the chair, to which she was appointed in early June, is a big step for the School of Nursing and will also help boost the university’s reputation in the field.

“It’s a huge honour for me and I am very lucky but I also feel that this is such a gift for the School of Nursing because it’s the first chair ever here,” she says. “There are other chairs in nursing across Canada but there aren’t a lot of them. So I think for this school to have a chair is significant and really speaks to a number of things, including the support from the Kingston community.”

As chair, Dr. VanDenKerkhof will be able to move her focus from her teaching responsibilities to her research and taking a closer look at how nursing is evolving.

Currently, she says, when most people think of nursing, they tend to focus on the acute care sector, taking care of patients in hospitals.

However, as she notes, nursing, and the health-care sector as a whole, is increasingly reaching further outside the hospital walls, especially as the population ages.

The Sally Smith Chair will allow her to spend more time looking at the current situation and where nursing, as it expands its scope of practice, is headed in the future.

“What I think we need to start looking at, and what we are starting to look at, is questions like: ‘What’s my quality of life? How much pain do I have? Am I willing to live with this pain? Is there something that can be done about that?’ It’s not just about surviving an illness,” she says. “And as the population ages, we don’t have the resources to care for everyone in hospital nor is it where most people want to be, especially in their last days, weeks or months of life. Nursing can and does play a major role in shaping what health care may look like in the future.”

With being able to spend more time outside of the classroom, Dr. VanDenKerkhof says one of her goals is to create stronger connections with the practice setting and help foster further links between researchers in nursing and in health care in general.

“We already have many collaborations in the School of Nursing but there remain opportunities to link faculty both within nursing and across disciplines. In this way projects can evolve into sustainable programs of research. My goal is to facilitate this process to improve our synergy as researchers,” she says. “I don’t have to necessarily be involved in every study and I don’t have time or the need to be, but I’ve been a faculty member at Queen’s since 2000 at the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine and I joined the School of Nursing in 2004. I started my career in nursing at KGH in 1981, so I know many of the players and I have a good sense of what people do. My hope is to connect people, provide support when needed and make studies happen.”

The chair should also afford her time to advance her research into the prevention of acute and chronic pain, and use of technology to improve care.