Nursing prof garners provincial accolade

Nursing Professor Judy MacDonnell has won a provincial nursing award for her contribution to health-care education. 

MacDonnell received the New Tenure Stream Faculty Contribution Award from the Council of Ontario University Programs in Nursing (COUPN) at its third annual awards presentation in Toronto April 22.

A professor in the School of Nursing at York since 2008, MacDonnell has over two decades of public health nursing experience. MacDonnell was nominated by fellow nursing Professor Nazilla Khanlou, Chair in Women’s Mental Health Research in York’s Faculty of Health. In her nomination letter, Khanlou champions MacDonnell for linking, in her community health classes, her research on social justice issues (including race, gender and sexuality) and nursing practice.

Right: Judy MacDonnell

Spurred by her experience as a public health nurse, MacDonnell enrolled in graduate studies. She completed a PhD in sociology and equity studies in education at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at York in 2008. At York, she teaches courses on community health, qualitative research and advanced nursing practice.

Her research focuses on gender and issues of race/racism, sexuality, age, generation and ability as they shape health and professional practice. Current projects include a focus on race and gender as factors in nurses’ workplace illness, injury and violence; links between work and health for trans health providers; interprofessional education related to in-home care for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people; immigrant women’s activism; and generational dynamics in nursing activisim.

Students find MacDonnell highly motivating and supportive, writes Khanlou. MacDonnell “uses critical pedagogy with its focus on complex dynamics of power to foster dialogue of challenging and often emotionally charged issues such as those related to racism and heterosexism in the classroom and nursing practice in a broader context.”

Though sexually diverse (lesbian, gay, bisexual) and gender-diverse (transgender/transsexual) people represent up to five to 10 per cent of the population, they bear a disproportionate burden of chronic disease and mental health concerns, says MacDonnell. They encounter challenges to achieving good health and well-being due to heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. There is a lot more openness and commitment in education and health contexts regarding LGBT issues with ongoing diversity training, but more still needs to be done. Despite the fact that LGBT issues have been front and centre in policy discourses over the last decade, these issues often remain invisible or inconsistent in education of health professionals and researchers, she argues.

“Health professionals across domains of practice are well-positioned to support the development of relevant and responsive health-care services and positive workplaces that address LGBT holistic health issues through education, policy and practice strategies that foster access and equity,” argues MacDonnell.

One of MacDonnell’s goals as it relates to her students is to create spaces and supportive learning communities for them to critically reflect on personal and professional knowledges and practices to more fully understand the complexities of people’s lives and promote understanding, respect and human connection. She also wants to prompt students to consider individual and collective actions that will lead to comprehensive health promotion strategies and social change.

"It’s really important that students learn about engaging and collaborating with communities to understand their priorities with a goal of shaping high-quality and inclusive care," says MacDonnell.