As an occupational therapist (OT) in community care, Banu Sundaralingam regularly witnessed the challenging and often undervalued role of family caregivers and she started to see in-home visits as an opportunity to better understand and meet the needs of this population.
“On the front-lines I was startled by the lack of support for caregivers and often wished I had more education and resources—that could work within my limited time and high caseload—to improve the caregiver experience during client visits,” said Banu. “I enjoy the clinical side but have always been interested in research and quality improvement work. I saw a chance to advance the confidence level of clinicians around caregiver needs and to create resources that service providers could easily access to strengthen this support. I just didn’t know where to start,” she said.
When Banu heard about the VHA Research Fellowship Program through her role as an OT at VHA Home HealthCare, she immediately knew that this opportunity could address these observations around caregiver needs, while also meeting her drive for further education.
“This program is run in partnership with VHA’s Research team and the University Health Network (UHN) Collaborative Academic Practice Department and is designed for point-of-care providers to learn and develop professionally by finding an innovative solution to a problem that they have experienced in their practice environment,” said Dr. Sandra McKay, Director of Research at VHA. “Leading a quality improvement (QI) project helps to encourage ongoing dialogue, generate positive change and improve the quality of client care,” Sandra said.
Banu successfully applied for the program and was named one of two 2019/20 VHA Research Fellows. Over the next six months her project Addressing Caregiver Needs in Community Care, used evidence-based best practice literature—with input from the caregiving community and rehab service providers—to design a variety of essential resources for carers.
“These resources address topics like how to navigate the health care system, caregiver health and wellness, financial management and where to access community resources including support groups, meal delivery services and respite care. We know that informed caregivers experience less anxiety and have a more positive, supportive caregiving experience, so these types of resources should be very beneficial,” said Banu. The second, critical piece of this work focused on education sessions to help service providers effectively communicate with caregivers, assess for caregiver burnout and quickly access Banu’s resources to enhance the quality of life and care for both the client and the caregiver.
“Even though my research and education sessions are still ongoing, I felt sad when this fellowship came to an end—it’s definitely been a highlight of my career,” said Banu. Fortunately, this opportunity led to a new full-time role for Banu at VHA where she can build on this research and education along with her clinical expertise as a Professional Practice Specialist and Educator for Rehab Services.
“This program demonstrates first-hand the positive impact of professional development on job satisfaction, retention and the quality of client care. Fellows like Banu help to cultivate a culture of curiosity and celebrate academic practice in our organization and that’s something we’re really proud of,” added Sandra.
Learn more about the VHA Research Fellowship Program here: https://www.vha.ca/vha-research-fellowship-program/