Jillian Halladay is a PhD candidate in Health Research Methodology (HRM), focusing on examining the co-occurrence of substance use and mental health concerns among youth by using diverse quantitative methods. She is also a member of Dr. Kathy Georgiades’ research lab at the Offord Centre for Child Studies, a Registered Nurse working on the Child and Youth Mental Health Inpatient Unit at McMaster Children’s Hospital, a Research Associate at the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research, leading program development and evaluation for the novel Emerging Adult Substance Use Program, and a Sessional Instructor with the School of Nursing at McMaster.

At HEI we pride ourselves on our collective ability to produce the best available health evidence, with the ultimate goal of bridging science to policy and practice and mobilizing new and better research methods. Describe your research and how it contributes to our overall mission.

My work focuses on deepening our understanding of factors that contribute to co-occurring substance use and mental health concerns among youth, and how this comorbidity impacts clinical care and outcomes. Youth are more likely to initiate substance use and experience problems associated with its use, including psychiatric concerns. Individuals with co-occurring substance use and mental health problems tend to experience more severe symptoms and worse prognosis. Provincial and national policies have recently prioritized the need to identify and treat mental health and addictions problems early, in a collaborative and integrated fashion. Despite these calls to action, services remain difficult to navigate, fragmented, and practices under-developed, in part due to limited research. 

Taking an interdisciplinary lens, I seek to mitigate the evidence to practice/policy gap in this area. My work is directly influencing clinical practice at the local and provincial levels, most notably through the co-development of a Cannabis Practice Guide for School Mental Health Professionals in publicly funded schools in Ontario, helping to establish routine screening and evidence-based interventions for youth at local paediatric and adult hospitals, and consulting on educational materials for national nursing and public health organizations. Youth cannot wait and, given government interest and population need, policy and practice changes need to occur in parallel with research.

What do you know about Dr. David Sackett and his enduring legacy?

Most notably, Dr. Sackett is known as the 'father of evidence-based medicine' and was the founder of HEI. Not only did Dr. Sackett have a brilliant mind, but he was bold enough to challenge the status quo, ultimately leading to positive changes in how we deliver and refine health care. He built an impressive list of rigorous research publications advancing clinical practice and education, as well as methodological strategies, which resulted in countless honours, awards, educational and practice changes. He could communicate complex science in a way that was understandable and actionable to various audiences, making him a great educator and disseminator of science. After reading his obituaries, watching lectures and interviews, and speaking to some of his colleagues and friends, several consistent themes came up about the type of researcher and person Dr. Sackett was. He made learning and research fun, and he was warm and welcoming to everyone regardless of status or age. He balanced being optimistic and bold with being humble, and he cherished and made time for his family. Overall, Dr. Sackett was and continues to be influential and inspirational for researchers and clinicians globally. 

What does receiving the David L. Sackett Scholarship mean to you?

I am very honoured to receive the David L. Sackett Scholarship. Dr. Sackett has been influential in shaping me into the researcher and nurse I am today, and he was the kind of person I strive to be. My undergraduate degree was in Nursing at McMaster, which is strongly rooted in evidence-informed decision-making; a concept based off of his seminal Evidence Based Medicine work. All of my graduate training has been in the department he created, where I have learned from his books and applied his methods. He has also provided me with indirect mentorship through his three-part series of the importance of saying no. Two years ago, I was feeling burnt out and overwhelmed. I never turned down opportunities and, eventually, I said yes to far too many things. His 'Saying No' series was influential in how I now prioritize my work, which greatly improved my wellbeing, increased my productivity, revived my passion for research, and ultimately kept me in the graduate program. Receiving this award provides me with encouragement and the belief that I am on the right path to being able to make lasting positive impacts on people’s lives through conducting rigorous research, communicating that knowledge effectively, instilling in others a passion for research and scientific inquiry, and, hopefully, being a bold, fun, and compassionate scholar and person.

Do you have any advice for students who may be thinking about applying for the David Sackett Graduate Scholarship? 

Graduate students often discuss the thought of being an 'imposter' or feeling like they do not belong. We are surrounded by world-renowned scholars, which can be intimidating as an early-career scientist. This can make students question the importance of their current contributions and ability to make an impact now and in the future. This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as how you present yourself and your work can influence your impact and success. I would encourage all students to make a mental note of the following fact: you are a graduate student in HEI, meaning you are bright and you do belong. However, I acknowledge this is sometimes difficult to believe or remember. Thus, I think we can all benefit from one of Dr. Sackett’s favourite quotes from the writer Kurt Vonnegut who said, 'We are what we pretend to be.' Be proud of your accomplishments, confident in what you know, bold enough to challenge the status quo, or ask for what you need … or pretend to be.

If you could describe your experience at HEI in three words, what would they be and why?

Passion, collaboration, and discovery are the three words that best describe my experience at HEI. Every person within HEI is incredibly passionate about their work. Steve Jobs once said, 'The only way to do great work is to love what you do.' I genuinely believe this, and I also believe that this passion is the key driver of success for HEI’s faculty and students, as well as my personal success. HEI also fosters a collaborative culture. Students and faculty are willing to help each other brainstorm or refine ideas and critique methodological plans or statistical analyses. The multi-disciplinary nature of HEI members encourages the consideration of different perspectives about research questions and implications. Members are open to and seek out collaboration on research projects, which increases research productivity, increases personal learning and development, and increases the quality of the work produced. Further, through educational instruction, HEI provides in-depth learning and understanding of diverse health research methods and refines critical thinking. This leads to the discovery of how to best answer clinical questions, which in turn leads to the ability to make scientific discoveries that can improve people’s lives. Overall, HEI provides a strong foundation of knowledge, encourages collaboration, and instills passion that collectively leads to scientific discoveries, which improve clinical care, policies, and population health. 

Learn more about the David L. Sackett Scholarship here.



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