October 15, 2015
#TransitionMatters: Meet the 2015 BRI Symposium Keynote
Debra Stewart, MSc. OT Reg. (Ont.) will deliver the Mickey Milner International Professorship Lecture 2015 at the tenth annual Bloorview Research Institute Symposium. Debra is an associate professor in the Occupational Therapy (OT) program, School of Rehabilitation Science and a scientist with CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research at McMaster University.
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We sat down with this year’s Symposium Keynote to find out more about her and her thoughts on Transition – present and future state.
Q: What is your personal passion behind Transitions? What inspires you?
Debra: I was initially inspired by a group of young adults who ‘graduated’ from the children’s treatment centre I was working at (Erinoak). These young adults would come back to see us at times and kept telling us that they could not get work, had nothing much to do – and it got me thinking. Their passion about addressing the transition from adolescent to adulthood was infectious, and I continued to become more and more passionate about transitions from the people I met with.
Q: Looking across all of your research and accomplishments, what stands out as your first impactful memory?
Debra: We (two occupational therapists) decided to run focus groups one summer at Erinoak with young adults who had ‘graduated’. We thought we should focus on vocational readiness to help them get jobs. However, in the very first focus group, they told us broaden our focus to all transitions to adulthood, as work was only one small part of the whole picture – and that stuck with me. Another impactful memory was when we brought together youth and young adults with disabilities, parents and family members, and service providers from across Ontario to develop guidelines for the transition to adulthood, using evidence we had gathered to date. The energy in the room was amazing, and everyone worked tirelessly to develop a model and graphic to frame the guidelines. We were all working towards the same goal and everyone was equal in voice.
Q: What are your thoughts on the BRI Symposium theme of Transitions?
Debra: I love it. I know that transition to adulthood has been a ‘hot topic’ for several years now, but we have learned so much about this transition and how the experiences and challenges have many commonalities with other types of transition. This is a great opportunity to share and build our knowledge together about all transitions.
Q: How did you feel getting asked to be the keynote speaker?
Debra: Amazed and honoured. I don’t always think of myself as someone that other people would want to hear speak – I still think of myself as a clinician who has been extremely fortunate to participate in research with exceptional people. But, I have had lots of great experiences and gained knowledge and I am looking forward to this opportunity to reflect on it and share lessons learned.
Q: How does the current state of Transition services weigh in to how you see the future of Transitions?
Debra: As with everything we do in health services and health research, we have learned a great deal in the past decade or so about transition and applied this knowledge to current transition services. I have seen some great examples of transition services that address many of the issues that have emerged from research. However, we should never rest on our laurels, so to speak, as there is always room for improvement. I believe we are heading in a very positive direction but we still need to learn more and do more to provide the most effective, meaningful and useful health services for youth and families.
Q: How do you see the family voice impactful in Transition?
Debra: The voices of both youth/young adults and their families are key to everything we do in services and research. I have worked with many families over the years, particularly from the Hamilton Family Network, and they have taught me more than any article or researcher has. We need to keep challenging ourselves as researchers to have families involved in research as equal partners, as they know what is most important.
Join us on November 10 when Debra will present her work, entitled Emerging Themes about Transitions to inform clinical practice, family and community engagement, and future research activities.