PhD Proud: School of Nursing’s first doctoral grads

Medical Sciences

- Dr. Madeline Walker

After travelling very different paths, Ann Syme and Kara Schick Makaroff convocate together this November with PhDs in nursing. While their journeys differ, Syme and Makaroff share feelings of pride mixed with relief as the first two students to graduate from the School of Nursing’s relatively new doctoral program, launched in 2006.

Syme defended her dissertation, “Organizing Transitions in Palliative Care: Inside/Outside Cancer Systems,” in June. Her work explored the question, “how does a person who is a cancer patient find their way to being a dying person?” She argued that cancer patients, constituted by institutions, enter a liminal space—a state of being betwixt or between worlds (or states of consciousness)—at the end of life. Her work adds a new theoretical rendering of the term liminality and has important implications for person-centred nursing care and health system redesign.

Entering doctoral studies as a mature learner, Syme reflects on her PhD as an “epic” rather than a career “platform.” “My program gave me the opportunity to finally say, with evidence, something my career had taught me. I wanted to sensitize palliative, oncology and homecare nurses to understand people in a place of liminality, to know that as nurses your work is to hold that space open with patients. Second, my program assisted me with ‘changing my mind,’ augmenting my thinking and problem solving to include multiple ways of understanding things. It worked.”

In August, Schick Makaroff defended her paper-based dissertation, an investigation into the concept of the unsayable and how it may be helpful in exploring individuals’ stories of living with chronic kidney disease (CKD). She undertook a narrative inquiry with people living with CKD as part of a research team, and she credits this teamwork as one of the things that stands out for her in her PhD experience.

“I had the opportunity to work on multiple research teams, seeing grassroots, hands-on research enacted, and this experience complemented the doctoral program in a fabulous way. I was one of the lucky few able to attach my research to a larger team, and that is one reason I finished in four years. I had the extra support of a team.”

Several faculty members in the School of Nursing are recipients of nationally funded research including awards from Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) and the Michael Smith Foundation, and the school’s doctoral students benefit greatly from this funding and experience.
Schick Makaroff is now doing postdoctoral work at the University of Alberta. She is the first nurse researcher to be funded by KRESCENT (Kidney Research Scientist Core Education and National Training Program), a program that typically awards physicians. She has set her career sights on an administrative position in nursing education, and believes that a strong research program is the key to career success.

UVic’s School of Nursing doctoral program accepts five to seven students each year, with a total of 24 students this year. In September 2011, they accepted their first cohort of online PhD students. This distributed learning option will be offered in alternate years with the School’s on-campus doctoral program. For more information contact Lori Klear or Lynne Young

In this story

Keywords: nursing, doctoral research, student life

People: Ann Syme and Kara Schick Makaroff

Related stories