New Funding Program Inspired by IHPME Students and Faculty Supports Student Research and Patient Partnerships 

January 24, 2024

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A new funding program, the Partnership Capacity Building Fund (PCBF), aims to foster collaborations between graduate students and patients in research and capstone projects.

The involvement of patients and caregivers in research can provide invaluable insights and greatly enhance our understanding of healthcare delivery. But for graduate students looking to collaborate with patients and caregivers in their research or capstone projects, few funding opportunities exist.

To bridge this gap, the Ontario SPOR Support Unit (OSSU) has launched the Partnership Capacity Building Fund (PCBF). This new funding program supports graduate students who are looking to actively partner with patients and caregivers in their Master’s thesis, doctoral research, or placements and capstone projects.

The fund was inspired by Emily Cordeaux and Yasmin Sheikhan, PhD students in the Health Systems Research (HSR) program at the Institute for Health Policy, Measurement and Evaluation (IHPME). They collaborated with their PhD supervisor, Dr. Kerry Kuluski, who is an associate professor at IHPME and Research Chair in Patient and Family Centred Care at the Institute for Better Health, Trillium Health Partners. Together, they explored possible solutions to the funding challenges that students often face when collaborating with patients.

Cordeaux emphasizes the importance of compensating patient partners for their time and expertise. Funding support can also enable patients to participate in training and knowledge-sharing activities, such as co-presenting research at conferences. Importantly, the fund supports patients as partners – not participants. 

Graduate students increasingly understand how critical it is to compensate patient partners for their contributions as partners on projects,” says Cordeaux. “With virtually no existing grant programs to support this, students may be dissuaded from engaging in patient-partnered work despite a sincere desire to do so.”

Dr. Kuluski approached OSSU executive team members, Dr. Vasanthi Srinivasan and John Riley, to create the fund. It was a welcomed opportunity as it strongly aligns with the OSSU’s goal of building capacity for patient-oriented research. 

Through the PCBF, students at Ontario universities can now apply for grants of up to $1,500 to compensate patient partners in research collaboration. These funds can cover stipends, workshop costs, conference fees, or other related expenses.

Dr. Kuluski stresses the significance of this funding program, as it creates opportunities for more students to partner with patients earlier in their careers.

“Building skills in patient partnership is a significant investment in time and orienting students earlier in their career is an excellent way to build capacity in partnership research,” she says. 

This new funding program represents an important step towards embedding patient partnership in graduate training and research. Sheikhan shares her hope that compensating patients and caregivers will become the standard in graduate work, not the exception.

“Learning about best practices for engagement in our courses is not enough,” says Sheikhan. “We must actively follow, adopt, and champion these practices in our research to truly make a difference. After all, engagement is not just about improving research outcomes—it is an ethical imperative.” 

The program’s first grant cycle was launched in December 2023. Graduate students interested in this opportunity can submit an application outlining their intended research and patient collaboration opportunity by February 1, 2024. For more information, please visit OSSU’s Partnership Capacity Building Fund webpage. 

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