Patient Advisor Wins National Award for Health Research

March 31, 2016

VICTORIA – After being diagnosed with cancer and then experiencing a long and complicated recovery, Colleen McGavin was inspired to volunteer her time to advance patient and family-centered care. Her dedication has been recognized nationally with the Partners in Research, Ronald G. Calhoun Science Ambassador Award for her role as a leader in health research.

“We recognize the strength shown by Colleen as she advocated for patients, enabling them to take control of their own health,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “Colleen’s leadership is a perfect example of how we are shaping B.C.’s health-care system, using patient voices and experiences to shift from a disease-centred and provider-focused system to a system of care centred on the patient.”

McGavin’s life as wife, mother and caregiver to her elderly parents didn’t stop while she was a patient—it was these relationships that highlighted for her the importance of family-centered care. McGavin believes illness is a ‘family affair’ in which everyone around the patient is affected. Her experience inspired her to advocate for healthcare decisions that have, at their heart, not only the welfare of patients but also their families.

“Being a patient voice has been one of the most rewarding things I've done in my life,” McGavin says. “I would call it a true vocation and something I felt called to do. It means a lot to me to know that it’s possible to take an experience like dealing with cancer for ten years and turn that into something positive.”

Like many people involved in this work, McGavin’s hope is that bringing her lived-experience into the conversation will provide new insights that lead to solutions to some of the challenges faced in healthcare today. Patients experience the health system from a unique perspective—they often see the gaps in care and have insight into what might be done to bridge them. Sharing this patient voice with healthcare providers helps them see possibilities that might not have occurred to them. And, of course, McGavin believes that having a patient ‘at the table’ helps to put the focus where it belongs—on patients and their families.

“I have a fundamental belief that healthcare professionals must remember to have ‘heart’ in everything they do in order for patient and family-centered care to fully become a reality,” she says.

In addition to supporting research at the University of Victoria, McGavin has volunteered countless hours as a patient advisor. In 2010 she joined the Province of British Columbia’s Patient Voices Network and led a support group for those suffering from chronic pelvic pain. Later McGavin supported projects with the BC Patient Safety and Quality Council, Doctors of BC, the Ministry of Health and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.

“Colleen recognizes the role patients can play in helping shape health research,” says University of Victoria’s Vice President Research David Castle. “We are especially grateful for her collaboration with Dr. Scott Hofer, Director of UVic’s Centre on Aging. Together with his research team, they will investigate how patients’ real-time feedback can help caregivers respond more effectively to their needs.”

As a member of Island Health’s Patient Advisory Council, McGavin has shared her experiences as a former cancer patient through speaking engagements and training workshops.

“Since Colleen connected with our Research and Capacity Building program in 2013, she has been an active and much appreciated collaborator in engaging patients in the research process,” says Dr. Martin Wale Island Health executive Vice President of Medical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer. “Without her dedication, insight and creativity, we would not have recognized the progress we’ve made in this important area. We often describe Colleen as ‘the power of one’ and look forward to establishing more of these relationships as Colleen engages patients in her new role in the BC SUPPORT Unit.”

Working tirelessly to advance patient outreach and engagement, McGavin is also the interim lead of patient and stakeholder engagement with the BC SUPPORT Unit – an emerging organization that is preparing to support, streamline and increase patient-oriented research in BC as part of Canada’s Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research. McGavin started with the Unit in 2013 as a patient partner on their Interim Governing Council, and since spring 2015 has been an integral part of their Interim Operations Team as well as advisory and working groups.

“The recruitment of Colleen to the BC SUPPORT Unit Interim Governing Council was an excellent move,” said Bev Holmes, interim leader of the BC SUPPORT Unit. “From the beginning she presented herself as an equal member at the table with some very senior officials from government, health authorities and universities. Her approach – respectfully challenging when necessary, innovative, open to ideas and to being challenged herself – ensured that she was received as an equal member as well.”

“Receiving this award has been both thrilling and exciting. It's gratifying to feel so appreciated by your colleagues and to have the concepts of patient-centered care and patient-oriented research highlighted and valued in this way,” says McGavin. “I feel like a stand-in for all the lay people who have devoted themselves to this work, and that I share this award with them.”

More information about the winners of the Excellence in BC Health Care Awards is available at: www.vroc.ca/pir/en/the-ronald-g-calhoun-science-ambassador-award/

Island Health Media Inquiries

Val Wilson
Media Relations Manager

University of Victoria Media Inquiries

Suzanne Ahearne
Media Relations Manager