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Research Views
The need for change
New initiatives

Responding to the reader

Fatigue and illness

Adolescent nutrition and lifestyle

Basic research: the foundation for medicine

Learning to walk...again

At the Forefront

Researchers in the making

Heritage Youth Researcher Summer (HYRS) Program 2006

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Research Views

Given Gail Surkan’s long-standing interest in health policy, it seemed a natural step for her to join AHFMR’s Board of Trustees in 2000.

“Health research is so pivotal to our future. It helps us understand not only how to deliver better treatments, but also how to raise the overall health experience in the province,” she explains. “Once I began working with AHFMR and realized its importance to Alberta’s families and communities, it was hard not to become more involved.”

Indeed. Ms. Surkan is now chair of the board, a position she assumed in November 2005. The trustees are leading the development of a long-term strategic framework for AHFMR. The strategy calls for maintaining AHFMR’s core program, which supports health researchers in Alberta, while at the same time developing two new initiatives to build research capacity in the province. In an interview, Ms. Surkan reflected on the need for change.

The need for change
“When AHFMR was established in 1980, it was one of only a few players in the health- research field in Canada. We demonstrated how effective the funding of people at the highest levels of excellence can be. In 2006, the research-funding environment is very different. There are many other agencies in other provinces and countries—some of them modelled after AHFMR—providing similar kinds of support.

“We believe that Alberta has the capacity to remain on the cutting edge of health research at the national and international level. Therefore, we’re moving forward with initiatives that will help us remain competitive in attracting outstanding health researchers to the province, supporting their work, and building a larger health-research vision. The goal is to reposition ourselves while continuing our core program of supporting health researchers at all stages—from basic training for students to long-term support for established scientists.”

New initiatives
The first new initiative is targeted support for a limited number of key research areas of importance to Alberta. The trustees have agreed on a set of principles that will guide the selection of these areas. They include a highly collaborative research environment, interdisciplinary teams, pan-provincial effort, and a clear link to significant health issues in the province. The areas could be those nearing significant breakthrough given existing expertise; or those where there is inadequate research activity given the importance of the research issue.

The second initiative is a major award program to recruit a very small number of research leaders from around the world to Alberta. The awards will be non-renewable, and valued at up to $1 million annually for a maximum of 10 years. They will be given to outstanding health researchers whose work is judged to have major global impact and who have the ability to lead major research developments. These awards are intended to be partnered.

“These new approaches have come out of consultation with the research community,” says Ms. Surkan. “Consultation continues, and we expect refinements.

“It would be easy to try to be all things to all people, but that would dissipate the effect. Focus is important. Far-sightedness is important. You’ll see both focus and a long-term view as AHFMR moves forward with new initiatives, new partners, and new ways of approaching issues. To have the opportunity to be involved at such a creative time in this organization is personally and professionally rewarding. When does it get better than that? Well, it gets better when you realize how pivotal the work of AHFMR is to the future of Alberta and Canada.

“I’m a new grandmother. The future is on my mind. I can’t help but feel this is an area where my efforts are well placed.”

Gail Surkan is chair of the AHFMR Board of Trustees and a member of the University of Alberta Board of Governors. She served as both chair and vice-chair of the Provincial Health Council, a body created to evaluate health reform and report to the Alberta Legislature. Ms. Surkan was mayor of Red Deer from 1992 to 2004 after serving on Red Deer City Council from 1986 to 1992. She has extensive experience as a consultant and analyst in various fields, including strategic planning, tourism, Northern communities, regional development policy, and economic development.

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