Dr. Christine Chambers is putting her research on managing children’s pain into the hands of parents

At an early age, psychology alumnae Dr. Christine Chambers knew she wanted to be a child psychologist when she grew up. After reading a book about a child psychologist, she was hooked. This led her to UBC to study with Dr. Kenneth Craig, one of the world’s leading experts in the psychology of pain.

Her lifelong dream was realized in 2001 when she completed her doctorate in clinical psychology. Chambers is now a clinical psychologist, Canada Research Chair in Children’s Pain and a Killam Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Psychology & Neuroscience at Dalhousie University. She has been identified as one of Canada’s top 10 most productive women in clinical psychology.

Her extensive research, based in the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research, explores the developmental, psychological, and social influences on children’s pain, with a focus on how parents and families factor into pain management in children.

As a mother of four, Chambers wanted her work to benefit her own children when they were in pain. This led her to examine her approach and take her research from evidence to influence. To do this, Dr. Chambers launched It Doesn’t Have to Hurt, a science-media partnership to mobilize evidence about children’s pain to parents. In partnership with Erica Ehm’s YummyMummyClub.ca, the initiative translates scientific knowledge about children’s pain management into blog posts, YouTube videos, Facebook polls, Instagram images, and Twitter parties.

 

 

Chambers is also tackling the problem of pain in children with cancer by developing Making Cancer Less Painful for Kids, a campaign in partnership with the Cancer Knowledge Network.

Using a media-driven approach, these initiatives provide parents with evidence-based research about how to manage needle pain and lessen pain for babies and young children today.

In this Q&A, Dr. Chambers discusses her time at UBC, the role of social media in knowledge translation, and how being a mother has shaped her research.

How would you describe your experience as a graduate student at UBC? 

I had a very positive experience as a graduate student at UBC. It was a very formative time for me, and had a major impact on me both professionally and personally. I was part of a great class (we even had a reunion a few years ago), and have remained especially close to my classmate Adam Radomsky, now a professor at Concordia.

Did you have a particular mentor in the Department of Psychology and if so, how did this mentor inspire you?

The opportunity to work with Dr. Ken Craig was what drew me all the way from Halifax to the Department of Psychology at UBC. He supervised both my Masters and PhD and continues to play a major role in my life. Ken provided a graduate training environment that provided the freedom to pursue the research topics that interested me. If I had an idea, Ken let me pursue it. He always challenged us to think critically, and our work was always had strong theoretical underpinnings.

And of course, I interacted with many other fabulous mentors through my various courses, practica, and committees at UBC. I would be remiss not to mention the major role Dr. Charlotte Johnston played in my graduate training. While Ken was my primary mentor due to his research focus in pain, his background was in adult health psychology. Charlotte was a critical mentor for me in the area of child clinical psychology. I learned so much from Charlotte about the role of research in child psychology. And to this day I remember how directly engaged Charlotte was in her own research (e.g., doing some of her own coding) – she set the bar high for quality.

What led you to study the developmental, psychological, and social influences on children’s pain?

When I was 12 I read a book about a child psychologist, and from that day on I wanted to be a child psychology. When I started my undergraduate degree at Dalhousie I met with an advisor who advised me that if I wanted to apply to PhD programs in clinical psychology, I had best get some research experience. The only child clinical psychologist at Dal at the time was studying children’s pain. So that is how I ended up in this particular research area. But after a few years of being engaged in this work, I was hooked and decided to continue in the area for graduate school. UBC was a natural choice for graduate training.

What is the most fulfilling aspect of your work?

A consistent thread to my research over the years has been my focus on the role of parents in children’s pain. Parents want to support their children when they have pain, but often don’t know how. It’s been interesting to watch how my research program has shifted over the years from doing research on parents, to engaging parents as partners in my research. This is very much consistent with the current focus on patient-oriented research that is dominating the field of health research right now. Working with parents to improve pain management in children has been most rewarding.

What role has social media played in expanding the awareness and reach of It Doesn’t Have to Hurt?
Social media has played an unbelievable role in helping to raise awareness about children’s pain. It was quite something to watch Canadian parents themselves because the primary disseminators of our children’s pain research.

It’s also quite something to think just how much Twitter has changed my professional life in just the four years since I’ve joined. It has opened up a whole new way of networking, and has had me cross paths with individuals (journalists, patients, non-psychologists) and organizations that I would either never have normally had a chance to engage with.

Can you tell us if being a mother (of four!) has evolved your research over the years?

My children (now aged 7 to 12) have had a major impact on the evolution of my research program. Truly, my interest in knowledge translation came about due to the realization that the scientific research I had spent over 20 years of my life contributing to wasn’t being used to the benefit of my own children when they were in pain. I knew I needed to change my approach, that it was time to time my research from evidence to influence.

Lastly, do you have any advice for current and future graduate students?

Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can during graduate school. It’s an intense time period, but never will you be in a place where more people are so invested in your training and learning.

Also, accept that you will fail, and that you will need to be persistent. I have always liked the advice: “Stop comparing your behind-the-scenes with everyone’s highlight reel.” This is so true, we often don’t see all the hard work and failure that was behind someone else’s success. It took me a long time to realize this, and I think it would have been helpful for me as a graduate student to keep this in mind.

 

Watch the video below to learn more about #ItDoesntHaveToHurt.