Trainee Feature: Chentel Cunningham

Chentel Cunningham, RN, BScN, MN, NP, PhD Candidate


Q: Tell us a bit about yourself! 

A: I completed my BScN in 2002 and then went on to pursue a Master of Nursing (advanced practice focus in Child Health) in 2007 – 2012, both from the University of Alberta in the ECHO research lab. I always knew I would be back to pursue a doctorate education someday. Now I am currently a 5th year PhD student with ECHO research team!


I have been the Nurse Practitioner for Pediatric Heart Function and Cardiomyopathy Program at Stollery Children’s Hospital since October 2014. I see the value in combining clinical work with research, as it provides a unique opportunity to identify gaps in knowledge and address issues in the clinical practice. My PhD work is inspired and situated in my clinical work, where I saw the gap in knowledge translational practice of research knowledge that targets family audiences.

Q: What led you pursue a PhD in Nursing?

A: I pursued my PhD studies for two important reasons. First and foremost, there is no evidence relating to parents’ knowledge needs and experiences of caring for a child with heart failure. This was troubling to me as many underlying conditions can bring about heart failure in children and treatments are complex. Therefore, understanding how to educate families about this health condition is key to providing excellent care in many contexts.


Secondly, I have also been surrounded by several clinical and academic mentors with a research focus who have made positive changes in health care. They have inspired me to learn and engage in research, using my unique nursing lens.


Q: Tell us a bit about your research! 

A: The families I meet are why I continue to study and try to advance care in this field. My research aims to fill a parental knowledge gap I have identified in my clinical practice by generating a knowledge translation tool based on parents’ knowledge needs and experiences, not the clinicians’ lens. I am currently in my last research stage designing my arts-based tool and will seek parent feedback as part of the development.


My graduate journey has been filled with hard work, successes, and challenges. I have been very fortunate to be funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research Fellowship, Killam Scholarship, ARNET, WCHRI, the University of Alberta FGSR and the Faculty of Nursing. Without these funders and the support of Dr. Shannon Scott and my committee, my work would not have been as successful!


Q: What impact do you hope this project will have?

A: My hopes of completing my PhD was to develop useful, practical tool that shares knowledge with families about their child’s heart failure. Parents truly are a partner in the care we prescribe to these children and having parents and caregivers educated is one of the foundations for improving their outcomes and adherence to complex treatments. Through my PhD journey, I have learned that nursing research is highly impactful, as nurses come with a unique perspective on certain clinical situations.


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Physical treatments can include physiotherapy, prescribed exercise plans, strengthening exercises, massage, and more. 

Psychological treatments can include counselling or talk therapy, supportive therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, mediation, and more. They can be provided on a one-on-one basis or in a group setting.