The SCPOR trainee shares her story about joining a research team that is looking at Indigenous Women and culturally safe birth

Carrie Pratt is a graduate student in the Masters Thesis Program in the College of Nursing at the University of Saskatchewan. She began working with the University of Saskatchewan’s Dr. Angela Bowen on an innovative and collaborative patient-oriented research team made up of researchers and six mother advisors called “Bringing Birth Back: Improving Access to Culturally Safe Birth in Saskatchewan”. The team was recently presented an Excellence Award for having the top SPROUT grant in the 2018 SHRF-SCPOR SPROUT grant competition.

We had a chance to sit-down with Carrie to talk about her trainee experience.

Q. What drew you to this type of research in the first place?
A. My heritage drew me to this research area. My great grandmother was a Cree midwife. So it felt natural to pick that axe up again.

Although I am Métis by background, I didn’t really grow up knowing much about my culture. I wanted to reclaim that knowledge to try to promote our communities and get that cultural resurgence going.

I feel if we want to create change, let’s start at the beginning. At birth, in the womb.

Q. How did you first get involved in this project?
A. Our paths just crossed by fortune really! I began working as a Research Assistant in the spring of 2017 with Dr. Angela Bowen. The opportunity for the SPROUT grant came in from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) and the Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research (SCPOR). That’s how I got involved, in getting mothers to help write that grant. We wrote the grant together – mothers, elders, and community workers, decision makers, health care workers and academics – and it was accepted in January 2018. That’s when we really got the mothers involved as Patient Family Advisors (PFAs).

I applied for the SCPOR traineeship the last two years in a row. The traineeship allows me to do this work.

Q. What are you hoping to answer with this research?
A. My formal research question is to look at the experiences of Indigenous mothers who have had a baby in a Saskatchewan hospital and how it related to culturally safe care.

Dr. Bowen has been doing work like this in Australia for many years, and the community initiative came from there. We got the ball rolling and then community members here in Saskatchewan started reaching out to us. There are 16 of us on the grant.

Q. What role do the mother advisors play on the research team?
A. We have done 24 interviews with mothers. We brought the data from the interviews to the research team, five of whom are patient advisors. As a team we analyzed the data and came up with the themes. My next job is to condense that information, and bring it forward to talking circles with the mothers we interviewed. There will be a photo-voice component to these talking circles, and we will encourage participants to use imagery to create a learning resource tool. We will use that as a way to share our research findings with the community and also as a tool for education for nurses and physicians who are helping mothers birth in the hospital.

Our work often involves driving to communities such as Sturgeon Lake (SK), holding round-tables with mothers, and leaders and health care workers in the community. We connect with the mothers who are from all over including those in Saskatoon and Regina through emails and phone calls and texting.

Q. What has it been like to have mothers so involved in this patient-oriented research project?
A. It’s been amazing. It makes the data more relevant, and it’s incredibly humbling. It makes me more appreciative of the work I am doing. I see how they can envision the work going forward by using their lived experience. It’s very inspiring.

Q. What do you think about this approach of using patient-oriented research that really engages patients in the research team, in the design of the study and in the sharing of the knowledge and findings? What sets it apart from other ways you’ve conducted research?
A. To me it’s almost more ethical. It’s about putting the research in the hands of the public and that’s where the knowledge belongs. I feel like I’m really making a difference and it’s not just data that sits on the shelf. It’s not just useful for mothers but for our partners as well. So basically it’s really meaningful, useful, and will actually do something.

Q. What have been some of the biggest surprises you’ve learned from this research?
A. One of the surprises has been how time-consuming it is to do this work, but also how rewarding it is. There’s a lot more involved than just doing a literature review. So it’s definitely the work, but also the rewards that are the greatest surprise. When we first came up with this idea, we didn’t think it would be as powerful as it has ended up being.

Q. How do you hope your research will have a lasting impact?
A. I think it comes back to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Calls of Action that came out of that, specifically 21 and 22 that talks about increasing traditional worldviews in modern medicine and increasing awareness and education about Indigenous health practices. But really, to me it’s about examining the whole process of colonization and how it took away the reproductive knowledge and rights of Indigenous mothers. It’s about trying to bring those practices back because that’s the foundation of Indigenous culture and society. It’s a personal commitment for me.

-Interview by Farha Akhtar

SCPOR trainee Carrie Pratt, MSc student in the College of Nursing at the University of Saskatchewan (Photo by: Chris Plishka)