Dec. 6, 2019

Research coordinator wears many hats for cardiac research

50 Faces of Nursing: Pam LeBlanc

Originally from Eastern Canada, Pam LeBlanc first moved to Alberta after graduating high school to look for work. Having always been interested in exercise and nutrition, she graduated from SAIT in Dietary Service Technology and worked as a dietary tech at the Foothills Hospital for 15 years.

In 2002, Pam was thinking about pursuing other avenues in her career. At that time she met cardiovascular nurse scientist Dr. Kathryn King-Shier who was looking for support in her new research office.   

What started out simply as a casual research position for LeBlanc quickly evolved into the full-time role she holds today as a research coordinator with King-Shier who studies cardiovascular health.

Over the last 17 years, LeBlanc estimates that she’s been a part of nearly 30 different research projects with King-Shier and met and spoken to thousands of research participants. She was the first person in the Faculty of Nursing to become approved as a Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP) by the Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA).

“I enjoy wearing many hats and multi-tasking. When you’re involved in a research project, you live and breathe that study, it permeates your soul and you think about it all the time,” says LeBlanc. “But it doesn’t feel like work. I’ve been so blessed and so fortunate to work with Kathy and to walk alongside her.”

The respect is mutual. King-Shier, who nominated LeBlanc, says, “She is an exemplary leader in my team and is always there to help others.

Pam has an incredible way of helping people to understand why health research is important and engage them as invested research participants. She is the core of my research office!”

Kathryn King-Shier and Pam LeBlanc.

LeBlanc has been a research coordinator with Dr. Kathryn King-Shier for the last 17 years.

Tell us about the work you do and what drives you to do it.

“We have a saying between us: ‘Kathy builds the wagon and Pam puts the wheels on it.’ She lays out the concept of the bigger research idea, hypothesis and so forth, writes the protocol, and finds the funding. I am then helping her hire research assistants, overseeing their work and tracking study participants and the data collection and analysis. I care for her finances as well and work with the processes and systems, HR and research accounting. What this means is that I’m sometimes in the community doing recruitments, other times, on the nursing unit dealing with nursing staff and unit clerks. Once the wagon is passed to me, I see the project through to finish.

“The work is the most fulfilling because of the patients. I am so awed by the fact that research participants let me into their homes or speak with me on the phone, and open their lives to me with the belief and trust that I will be honourable to them. From the beginning, I saw that as such a precious thing: the people.”

Why do you feel nursing research is significant?

To find answers and to gain knowledge. Especially as we work with diverse groups of people, it’s shocking how little some know about their own health. One of our studies was around cardiac symptom recognition and the basics of making decisions to seek treatment and going to hospital. It was amazing how long some people waited to seek care. One unique way we chose to address this problem was to give magnets to school children to help them recognize symptoms in their family members and to know when to call 911. Engaging multi-generations - it’s about empowering and educating and this came through the research we’re doing.” 

What are some standout moments from your career with the Faculty of Nursing?

A lot of Dr. King-Shier’s research has been among non-English speaking, immigrant and ethnic populations. I often find myself being the only English-speaking person in a situation. There were times I remember when the translator told the participant, ‘It’s ok to speak with her. She can be trusted.’ Being in the moment where the person is looking at me, there’s a language barrier, and they’re assessing ‘ok, I will tell my story and talk about the stress that caused my heart attack.’ Those moments where people open up are the most powerful.

“It still surprises and wows me that the folks say yes to participating in research. It shows that they believe something good will come of it; that it’s something beyond themselves because the information we gather can help future heart patients.”

What advice do you have for aspiring nurses?

“Don’t forget the people. Sit down and engage. Don’t be afraid to get close to them and treat them well. They’re both fragile and resilient. Learn how to come alongside people and be empathetic. We always say we want to leave the potential participant pool intact. The people who have stepped forward who say they want to participate in research, we don’t want them to be afraid to participate again in the future. We want to leave them as we found them, or maybe we’ll even find them more inclined and open to participating in research.”

Is there one luxury in life you would rather not live without?

“I don’t think I could get by without the internet. It makes multi-tasking possible!”

All through 2019, we'll be highlighting 50 Faces of Nursing and profiling nursing members in celebration of our 50th anniversary. For more, visit nursing.ucalgary.ca/50