Welcome back to Professor Denise Harrison

After over 10 years working as a Professor in Canada, it’s great to welcome Professor Denise Harrison back to the University of Melbourne’s School of Health Sciences Department of Nursing.

Professor Harrison is no stranger to the university’s Parkville precinct as she completed her PHD here. Although she has been living out of her suitcase since she and her husband returned to Melbourne on Christmas Day, she is enjoying settling back into familiar surroundings after a decade as the Chair in Nursing Care of Children, Youth and Families at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). She’s looking forward to making waves in neonatal pain research back on home turf.

Professor Denise Harrison speaking in Shanghai

Professor Denise Harrison speaking during her visit to Shanghai

Welcome back Denise. What’s on the agenda for your return to the University of Melbourne?

It’s an exciting time to be back, with many key priorities for the first quarter, including writing grants and delving deeper into research. Of course partnerships are a crucial part of bringing research to life. When returning to a country you’ve been absent from for over a decade, it’s a challenge to rebuild them. But I’m enjoying reaching out to nursing groups, family groups and building interdisciplinary research networks, as well as tapping into social media forums, especially those who have a substantial following. I’ll also be working to build on strong partnerships with families and health care provider groups, as well as building international partnerships, friendships with different teams with expertise in neonatal and paediatric care, knowledge translation, change theory and nursing leadership. We are all set for a great exchange of information and people.

Professor Denise Harrison speaking with a nurse during her visit to Shanghai

Professors Denise Harrison and Wendy Gifford

What was behind your decision to return to Melbourne?

The decision was part professional, part personal. With family and friends back in Victoria, my husband and I thought it was finally time to return. But it was also an academic choice. There’s a lot of paediatric pain expertise in Canada, where I have been based for the last ten years, and I feel like I have so much to offer bringing back knowledge over here. There’s never been a better time to start a new program of research with my partners here. It’s my mission to highlight and improve paediatric pain research in Australia and really help grow it. People are doing things here, but I think there is so much opportunity for the research to develop with our combined support.

Professor Denise Harrison interacting with a baby in a Shanghai hospital

Professor Harrison's visit to the Shanghai Ninth People's Hospital

Celebrating 200 years of the nursing profession, 2020 is the Year of the Nurse. How do you think the perceived role of the nurse could change in society?

Sometimes it feels like nurses can be invisible. But the role they play is crucial in sharing best knowledge and information to end users, working with families to promote best practice. Research highlights what is being done in a certain field and speaks volumes for how boundless the profession can be. Nurses lead and drive family centred care in paediatrics and neonatal and pain work. For the last ten years, I have focussed on research but clinicians across many disciplines deserve to receive praise.

What does the department have planned for the Year of the Nurse?

It’s an extremely exciting time as we celebrate 200 years of the nursing profession. We are delighted to unveil our plans for a very special Marion Barrett lecture in May, welcoming Dr Anne Kurth from Yale. We have decided to fuse the lecture with our annual awards night so we can really raise the roof with a dedicated day of praise for the profession. There’s lots more in the pipeline for the year ahead, but we will keep you posted in due course.

Professor Denise Harrison visits a Shanghai hospital

Professor Harrison's visit to the Shanghai Ninth People's Hospital

You’ve always been a strong advocate of social media, to engage and disseminate information. What role do you think it could it play to help nurses and health practitioners spread their message?

It’s early days for health research using social media, it’s still relatively new. Issues of sensitivity and privacy mean practitioners may be unsure about how best to use it. We can do much more to widely share our knowledge and guidelines of best practice for clinicians and parents. We produce so many educational research tools and social media really is a great way to get them out there. So, my ‘Be Sweet to Babies’ team, which includes parents of babies, clinicians, students, researchers and organizations, produced a series of videos for parents, showing how they can use breastfeeding, skin-to-skin or small amounts of sucrose during their babies’ painful needle procedures. The videos have been produced in 10 languages and posted onto YouTube for widespread public use.

One of Professor Harrison's educational videos, available to the public on Youtube

My postdoctoral fellow from Brazil recently won an international award for excellence in pain care in developing countries, based on her work using our Portuguese language video. On her Facebook page, she shared our Be Sweet to Babies Portuguese videos and studied the reach and effectiveness of the videos in supporting parents to advocate for using the evidence in practice. This is one example of how we, as nurses, as part of the interdisciplinary healthcare team, can use social media to share best evidence to people who can use the evidence, as well as study the effects of using social media in our research.

From your time overseas, you have a wealth of international contacts in your field. Can you talk us through some of the global collaborations you are the most proud of?

I’m proud to say I have grown my area of research in many parts of the world. Thanks to all my colleagues and students around the world, my YouTube videos have been produced in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Persian, Arabic, Hindi, German, Vietnamese, and Inuktitut, the most common language spoken by the Indigenous people in Eastern Canada; the Inuit people.

I was the lead of an international grant for building pain research in developing countries, with partners from France and Brazil. This led onto to further work, successful grant, supervision of students and multiple publications, I was also awarded a visiting Professor award from China, which included supporting thesis students, teaching undergraduate students, supporting faculty in their research and working with students and faculty in knowledge translation.

There’s an international Paediatric Pain meeting in New Zealand next year and I am already investigating our options to collaborate.

My main aim is to widely disseminate the knowledge I have and how it can be used to further the practice of nurses and our colleagues and research partners in our field of research.

Professor Denise Harrison's visit to a Shanghai hospital

Professor Harrison's visit to the Shanghai Ninth People's Hospital