Nursing: Professor Denise Harrison

Professor Denise Harrison (M. Advanced Nursing Practice 2002, PhD 2007) is the Chair in Nursing Care of Children, Youth and Families at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).

What led you to study at the University of Melbourne? 

I was considering undertaking a Masters of Science in Nursing degree, and was already affiliated with the University of Melbourne through my clinical teaching at the Royal Children’s Hospital for the Paediatric Intensive Care Nursing Course. However, it was not until Professor Linda Johnston started her positon at the University of Melbourne that I felt I had a suitable supervisor. After discussing my area of interest with her (neonatal pain management), I felt it was the perfect opportunity to begin my Masters of Nursing.

What are your strongest memories of your time at the University of Melbourne?

My office, which I shared with inspirational nurses doing their graduate degrees, some of whom remain my close friends and work colleagues today.  Also, my daily walks from The Royal Children’s Hospital, where all my data collection took place, through the beautiful old University grounds (including a stop off for my daily fix of coffee and sushi at Plush Fish) to my University office in Carlton.

What/who motivated you at University?

Many people motivated me at the University, including my friends and peers at the affiliated Royal Children’s Hospital, my office partners and my Principal supervisor, Professor Linda Johnston. Also my dear friend and colleague, Cheryl Evans, helped to keep me motivated in my clinical and academic journey, and taught me so much about giving the best, evidence-based high quality care but also the most beautiful gentle nursing care to the sickest babies and their parents.

What motivates you now?

The need to continue to improve care for sick and healthy newborn babies, older babies and young children and their parents. This is how my research journey started, and continues to this day. Although my research started with one single question “how can we do this better”, it evolved into further questions, then a program of research.

What drew you to your area of expertise?

My clinical nursing in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), looking after critically ill babies and their parents, drew me to my area of research expertise in pain management for sick babies. After many years of nursing in the NICU, and becoming increasingly worried about the impact of the multitude of painful procedures we were performing on sick babies I felt the need to research ways to reduce pain.

What do you love about what you do? 

I consider myself privileged to be able to do what I love to do, which is to continue to research ways to improve how we care for sick and healthy babies and children and their parents, especially during painful procedures. My work has extended into the world of social media and YouTube videos, as a way of getting the knowledge out to parents of children and healthcare providers around the world. This is a newer area of knowledge translation for researchers and I love that I am able to work with others to try to see if using social media actually makes a difference. In addition, I am privileged to teach and mentor the next generation of nurses and researchers.

What do you consider to be some of the highlights of your career? 

Being awarded the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), Canada, Nursing Research Chair. This position as Chair in Nursing Care of Children, Youth and their Families, allows me work with babies and their parents, clinicians, students, and other researchers in Canada, Australia and around the world, in my program of research.

The other highlight was producing the ‘Be Sweet to Babies’ videos – a series of videos showing parents how they can help reduce their baby’s pain. These series of videos have been produced and posted onto YouTube, in nine languages (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Inuktitut, German, Vietnamese), and my team is in the process of producing the video in Hindi, Cree and American Sign Language. The videos were developed in partnership with parents of babies, nurses in community health and hospital settings, doctors, Baby Friendly Initiative representatives, undergraduate and graduate students, researchers and public relations personnel.

Here is the link to the CHEO Be Sweet to Babies Playlist.

What books, texts and thinkers have inspired you in your profession?

Thinkers: From 1986, when I was first employed at 10 West (which soon after became a NICU) at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Geraldine McDonnell (RIP 2017) was a great inspiration and support throughout for my clinical and academic career. Since 1987, when undertaking my Paediatric Intensive Care Nursing course at the Royal Children’s Hospital, I was inspired by the works of nurse researchers, Dr Celeste Johnston and Dr Linda Franck, both of whom led the world in neonatal pain research.

Books: Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations inspired me to seek to understand and use theory about how to change and improve healthcare practices. Every day in all my research projects I use elements of this text in how I plan my research, analyse my research, and work with parents, nurses, doctors and midwives in my knowledge translation work.

What is good health to you?

Being positive, patient, active, pro-active and taking responsibility for our own health, being kind, being productive. These are all aspects of good health.

What advice do you have for current students?

Stick with it, enjoy the ride, work hard, learn well, engage with the studies, the readings, the teachers/professors. Working as a nurse, or as another professional in healthcare, is a privilege. We are in positions where we can make so much difference to the lives of people ranging in ages from the tiniest most premature baby, to the very elderly. Be great mentors to others and take care of yourselves.