Demonstrating Value to Add Value

Dr. Clayon Hamilton, supervised by Dr. Linda Li, received a prestigious Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Health System Impact Fellowship Award, one of only six given out in this competition. This award is  jointly funded by the CIHR and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, the goal of this new program is to create “a new generation of leaders of evidenced-informed health and health system improvement.”   Dr. Hamilton already has CIHR and Michael Smith post-doctoral fellowship awards for a project which will have to be put on hold while he starts his new project, “Patient/Public Engagement Measurement and Evaluation Project within the BC Ministry of Health’s Patients as Partners Initiative”. In this project he will develop and evaluate quality indicators of patient engagement in health policy decisions. This is something that is badly needed and can improve health care and health for all Canadians.

There is a concept that I tried unsuccessfully to resist, because it is integral to being a good health scientist. When I started my postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Linda Li she introduced me to the idea of “grantsmanship.” By the way, it came along with an “F” word – “fundable.” Instantly, my brain shirked both concepts.

For many research trainees like myself, an ideal world of research would not involve applying for grants and trainee awards. One’s time would be spent conducting research and undergoing professional development. Thanks to Dr. Li, learning the art of grantsmanship has been an imperative part of my training. At this stage of my career my grantsmanship efforts have been focused on acquiring trainee awards rather than research grants. The basic tenets of grantsmanship are consistent between both efforts. This article however, does not suggest the 10 tips for winning a grant or award, nor does it purport to describe the key attributes of grantsmanship. This article merely shares my experience of being successful in acquiring highly competitive trainee awards, and the gratitude I have for all those involved in my success.

When I started my postdoc in 2015, it was completely funded by Dr. Li. Fortunately, before the end of the first year of my fellowship, I received a three-year Michael Smith Foundation of Health Research (MSFHR) Trainee award. The MSFHR award changed my life as it came at a point when I was contemplating discontinuing academic research. Essentially, my contributions towards advancing patient-oriented research have been dependent on being able to demonstrate that I am fundable. Fundable – meaning, beyond my experience and qualifications, I am in the right place, connected with the right people, and at a suitable point in time to provide a meaningful impact to society through my important research.

After applying for (and not receiving) a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Fellowship I took the criticisms of the reviewers into consideration, applied the following year and was successful. Essentially, it required persevering, moving passed failure, and leveraging constructive criticism. Within a few months, I won the prestigious CIHR Health System Impact Fellowship. This fellowship aims to nurture the next generation of health system leaders in Canada.

The previous year, I had been working toward our vision to make an impact to patient-oriented research through the ongoing Patient Engagement In Research Scale (PEIRS) Study. The PEIRS Study focuses on advancing the quality of how patients, family caregivers, and the public are included as partners on health research projects. This study would contribute to improving the extent to which research considers the values, needs, and preferences of patients and the public. I have a deep appreciation and respect for the members of my research team. The tenacity and passion of the patients on my research team have been a driving force of motivation for me.

The value of the work I do has never particularly been about me; it takes a team to demonstrate the significance and impact of our work to the community we serve. Throughout all of this, one key lesson learned from my supervisor is to be succinct, say all what is needed, not more, and in fewer words.