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Q&A with Dr. Christine Chambers

Dr. Christine Chambers (right), professor of pediatrics and psychology, Dalhousie University.

Pain, as Dr. Christine Chambers says, is a mysterious disease—a complex biological and psychological experience. But her research at the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research at the IWK Health Centre is helping health professionals – and families – better understand it.

The professor of pediatrics and psychology is now sharing her research and expertise in a new way: social media. Dr. Chambers explains how social platforms are increasing her reach, and putting pain management research in parents’ hands.

How did you take an interest in pediatric pain research?

I’ve wanted to be a child psychologist since grade six. And as an undergraduate student, I learned that in order to get into a PhD program (to become a child psychologist) I needed to do research. The only child psychologist on faculty who could supervise me was doing research on pediatric pain--I quickly became fascinated by the area and have stuck with it over the course of my career.

How well is pediatric pain understood compared to adult pain?

We certainly know more about children’s pain than we did in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Back then, it was widely believed that babies didn’t feel and often underwent major medical procedures and surgeries without proper pain management or anesthesia. Only about five per cent of published pain research studies are about children’s pain; adult pain still gets much more research attention.

I recently gave a TEDx talk on children’s pain that describes a bit more about the history of children’s pain and the challenges we still face in the area.

How does children's pain research help caregivers and health professionals?

Research findings guide clinical care. And so we need high-quality research on how pain in children is assessed and managed in order to improve the pain care that children actually receive.

What value is there for parents to consider involving their children in pediatric pain research?

We recruit anywhere from 500 to 1,000 families a year from the Halifax area to help us out with our research studies. Having families participate in our research helps us gain new knowledge about how to improve pain assessment and management. It’s so appreciated. And families tell how rewarding it is to take part in a study that will help other children, or perhaps even their own, someday.

Taking part in our research is also a great learning experience for kids. We make it an educational experience for our participants; it’s a chance to experience science from the inside out. Some of our former participants have been inspired to do their own science fair projects about pain, or come back and volunteer to help out behind the scenes in our research. We’re always looking for more families to help us.

How are you working to better inform parents of pediatric pain research?

After completing a fellowship in media and advocacy for pain researchers like myself, I’ve been inspired to make sure that our research on pain in children really reaches parents. Increasingly, parents are using social media to get health information about their children. We created a fun, two-minute YouTube video for parents about what they should – and shouldn’t – do to help their children with pain from needles. All the tips are based on research.

I’m also active on Twitter, sharing important information about children’s pain with parents, health professionals and others, and our Centre for Pediatric Pain Research has a Facebook page. We have a number of social media projects for parents about pain in the works.

In acknowledgement of my use of social media to raise awareness about children’s pain, I was recently nominated by the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation for a Health System Global “Best on Twitter” award.

Support Dr. Chambers’ research by endorsing her “Best on Twitter” nomination by September 16, 2014.