Dr. Nadia Sourial had long contemplated the idea of pursuing her PhD, but wanted to be sure of its purpose prior to embarking on the journey. After working with Dr. Howard Bergman, former Chair of the Department of Family Medicine, and Dr. Isabelle Vedel, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director for the Master's program in the Department of Family Medicine, for eight years as a biostatistician, and gaining experience working at Health Canada in Ottawa, Dr. Sourial decided it was the right time to steer her career towards academic research. In Fall 2015, Dr. Sourial, who also holds a MSc in Statistics from McGill University and a BSc in Statistics obtained with distinction from Concordia University, began her PhD studies in the Department of Family Medicine, earning her doctorate in February 2020.
“I went into family medicine to have a broader expertise, to go beyond just quantitative methods to develop an expertise in qualitative research and participatory methods,” explains Dr. Sourial. “Completing a PhD in primary care helps me stand out as a researcher. It helped open the door to more opportunities.” Indeed, Dr. Sourial secured a position as a researcher at the Hospital Research Centre of Université de Montréal, affiliated to the Department of Family Medicine of Université de Montréal, before she defended her thesis.
Dr. Sourial’s doctoral work focused on describing trends in primary care performance for persons with dementia in Ontario and on using robust causal inference methods to evaluate the impact of interdisciplinary primary care teams on health service utilization in this population. “Since I was already working in dementia and primary care with Dr. Bergman and Dr. Vedel, it was a natural step for me to focus my PhD in that area,” she notes. “I am interested in how we can better evaluate policies and programs for our aging population.” Dr. Sourial’s research created accessible guidance on the advantages and uses of causal inference methods for impact evaluation. The evidence produced in this body of work fills important substantive and methodological gaps in primary care dementia research and will help guide ongoing dementia strategies in Ontario and elsewhere. Dr. Sourial’s PhD was jointly supervised by Dr. Isabelle Vedel, and Dr. Tibor Schuster, Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Director for the PhD program and Postdoctoral Fellows in the Department of Family Medicine.
Dr. Sourial defended her thesis, “Primary care performance for persons with dementia in Ontario: the impact of interdisciplinary primary care on health service use,” in February 2020. She received a perfect score from the jury comprised of Dr. Marion Dove, Chair of the Department of Family Medicine, Dr. Tracie Barnett, Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine, Dr. Clare Liddy, Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Ottawa University, and Dr. Eric Tchouaket, Professor at Université du Québec en Outaouais. “This defense demonstrates the high quality of our doctoral program. Two articles have already been published in high profile journals: CMAJ and the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society,” says Dr. Vedel. “Dr. Sourial, a biostatistician, explained the importance of combining high level quantitative methods and understanding the rationale behind the results obtained by qualitative methods.”
Dr. Sourial was previously awarded the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) in 2017. “This award opened up a lot of doors for me, it helped me focus on my PhD,” she says. Dr. Sourial was granted three doctoral awards, but had to decline two in order to accept the Vanier award. “During my first year of PhD studies, I was working four days a week with Dr. Vedel to support myself and my family. The award changed everything for me.”
“My future projects are going to build on my PhD thesis. In my research, I did not find that interdisciplinary teams were actually effective to help people suffering from dementia end up less in the hospitals and less in the emergency rooms,” explains Dr. Sourial. “My next step is to look at the organizational characteristics of primary care teams and see how they might affect the effectiveness.” She also wants to further develop methods in causal inference specific to health service research in primary care. “Causal inference right now, has not really taken into account all the kinds of situations we run into when we do primary care research. My aim is to further explore how we should think of cause and effect when we deal with messy real-life interventions in primary care.”