Faculty of Health Sciences assistant professor Nicole Catherine is the new Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Child Health Equity and Policy

Nicole Catherine receives Canada Research Chair in Child Health Equity and Policy

November 17, 2022

By: Sharon Mah

Simon Fraser University (SFU) Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) is pleased to announce assistant professor Nicole Catherine has been named Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Child Health Equity and Policy. This chair is the third CRC currently held at the Faculty of Health Sciences.

The CRC program provides universities with the opportunity to recruit world-class scholars who are emerging global leaders in their field.

Catherine joined both FHS and the Children’s Health Policy Centre (CHPC) in 2012, becoming university research associate in 2013 before being appointed assistant professor in 2022. She is concurrently co-principal investigator and scientific director for the BC Healthy Connections Project (BCHCP), a 10-year randomized controlled trial that has evaluated the effectiveness of the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) (2011–2022). NFP is an intensive nurse-home visiting program that aims to improve child and maternal outcomes – prenatally and continuing to age two years and beyond. Catherine also serves as the associate centre director for the CHPC, an FHS-affiliated interdisciplinary research group focuses on improving health and wellbeing for all children and on the public policies needed to reach this goal –through research, policy, community engagement and teaching.

Catherine’s research to date has focused on three areas:

  • ensuring better inclusion of children who are experiencing disadvantage – in both research and policy-making;
  • promoting health and wellbeing in early childhood through public health programming; and
  • informing the development and evaluation of interventions that address avoidable early childhood adversities and health inequities.

Her research approach involves engaging directly with children and families to learn about their experiences through the use of surveys and semi-structured interviews. “I’m grateful to the children and mothers who generously give their time to this work,” Catherine says – adding that it’s important for investigators, policymakers and practitioners to address barriers to inclusion, especially for underserved populations who are unfairly labelled as ‘hard-to-reach.’ “The onus is on us. We ‘need to reach’ them.”

Catherine has been a scientific leader in advancing child health equity and policy since 2012. “My research is generating new evidence on how to improve health and development for some of BC’s most underserved children – starting early, before children are born.”

Collaboration is foundational to Catherine’s approach. In addition to working with policymakers and practitioners, she also partners with child- and maternal-serving organizations and Indigenous communities across Canada. She and her scientific colleagues share findings with this national network through regular meetings, invited presentations and policy and academic reports. Her investment in sustaining these research-policy collaborations has enabled rapid uptake of research findings by senior policy leaders, while also promoting healthy development both prenatally and in early childhood. “I value early prevention efforts rather than waiting to intervene later, once problems have arisen,” Catherine says.

In addition to co-leading the BCHCP, Catherine is currently investigating new research questions:

  • How can we enhance the uptake of early prevention programs for children and young mothers experiencing adversities?
  • How effective is NFP at improving long-term health and development across adolescence in the BCHCP cohort of 739 mothers and 737 children?
  • How are the 200 BCHCP Indigenous mothers and their 237 children faring across pregnancy and early childhood?

“My work is the collective result of many dedicated study team members and colleagues that I have had the privilege to work with over the years” Catherine says.

As the new Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Child Health Equity and Policy, Catherine will continue to build on these research questions into the future – expanding the CHPC’s scope and reach. “The funding for the CRC will facilitate my ability to generate research that is responsive to the needs of children, communities and policymakers and to make meaningful contributions to advancing child health equity and policy.”