Researcher Profiles

Émilie LeBlanc 
Master's Student, New Brunswick

Émilie LeBlanc was born and spent her entire life in Memramcook. When she was little, she dreamed of being a novelist. After recently moving to Moncton, she now works as a research assistant in the laboratory of Dr. Mathieu Bélanger at the Centre de formation médicale du Nouveau-Brunswick.

Émilie did a Bachelor’s degree in nutrition at the Université de Moncton (UdeM). UdeM’s student magazine, Le Front, was her favorite playground during her studies. It published a number of columns she wrote on nutrition and health.

During a research internship at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre on dietary recommendations for patients with diabetes, she discovered that she was passionate about research. When she decided to continue her education, she chose Dr. Bélanger to supervise her Master’s degree. One condition: do her research project on diabetes. She registered in the Master of Health Sciences program at the Université de Sherbrooke and focused her research on financial incentives for family physicians to manage patients with diabetes. Since this was an important issue at the time, Émilie quickly received a joint research award from the MSSU and the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation (NBHRF) in 2014 and another in 2015. Her Master’s work has been accepted for publication in the renowned Canadian Journal of Diabetes.

While doing her Master’s, Émilie gained experience in managing large administrative databases, which today enables her to work on Dr. Bélanger’s MATCH project. One of the more ambitious projects on physical activity among Canadian youth, the MATCH project seeks to gain a better understanding of what motivates young people to continue engaging in physical activity as they grow up or what prevents them from doing so. Ultimately, this project will make it possible to develop programs or activities to keep our young people more active and therefore prevent certain chronic diseases, both physical and mental.

A typical day in Émilie’s week? There isn’t one! Émilie bounces from gathering data in the province’s schools, developing questionnaires, press conferences, choosing incentives to encourage student participation, and writing project reports. Not only does she feel strongly about this subject, but she can “have fun” developing communications strategies to maximize the participation and retention of the young people in the study, some of whom have been involved for five years! And motivating pre-teens year after year to participate in the study is not easy. However, thanks to the efforts of Émilie and the rest of the team, the project, which had 1,000 students at the start, has managed to retain nearly 600 students who will be tracked until they reach Grade 12.

Émilie talks enthusiastically about her work as a research assistant for the MATCH project. However, she hopes someday to open an artisanal cheese dairy in the region. Because of her dairy farmer father, Émilie is interested in transforming milk into cheese and developing healthy recipes that use her products or a nutrition tool for the general public. There is no question that her training in nutrition and her experience in health research will help Émilie to establish a responsible, innovative company in New Brunswick’s dairy products sector.

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Dr. Amanda Slaunwhite
Post-Doctoral Fellow, New Brunswick

Born and raised in Williamswood, Nova Scotia Dr. Amanda Slaunwhite joined the Maritime SPOR SUPPORT Unit (MSSU) New Brunswick node in March of 2014 as Post-Doctoral Fellow with a research focus of child and youth mental health and addictions and access to care.

As a young girl, Amanda aspired to be an artist. Water colors, gouache and metal smith (jewelry); are still passions of hers but it was her time spent on Parliament Hill after her undergraduate degree at Dalhousie that lead to her become a researcher. “I worked with researchers that recently completed the Out of the Shadows At Last: Transforming Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction services in Canada Senate report. It really opened my eyes to the issues caregivers and families with lived experiences are facing, which piqued my interest in becoming a health services researcher,” Slaunwhite explained.

Dr. Slaunwhite went on to complete her Ph.D. in British Columbia (BC) at the University of Victoria. She had the opportunity to work at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC and the BC Ministry of Health. She is now working as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of New Brunswick under the guidance of Dr. Paul Peters.

“Here in the Maritimes we don’t have what British Colombia and Ontario have –large populations that allow for a system of care and the provision of a variety of community-based, acute care and tertiary services. We have a small diverse population with substance use challenges, and real struggles to obtain care.”

After further studies, Amanda decided to add a focus on children and youth as she saw the trends in the health services utilization of two groups (adults living with mental health and addictions and children and youth) but identified a lack of research in Eastern Canada. Recently, Amanda has been working alongside Dr. Scott Ronis, Co-Principal Investigator of the ACCESS Mental Health project – an Atlantic Canada-based research project examining how youth with five mental health conditions access services.

“My research looks at child/youth access to care and their health care utilization. This type of patient-oriented research speaks to the greater issue of the appropriateness of care and whether the services available meet the needs of the population. The New Brunswick Institute for Research Data and Training (NB IRDT) and tools such as ArcGIS have been key components of my research at UNB,” says Slaunwhite.

Dr. Slaunwhite sees the MSSU and the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation as two important resources that allow her promote her research and findings to the wider community both provincially and throughout all of the Atlantic provinces.

“Coming from a rural Maritime community and having experience with persons that have mental health problems and substance abuse, I hope that my research will positively impact access to treatment for Maritimers.”

Follow Amanda on Twitter @prosretro