Oct. 4, 2022

Nursing doctoral student committed to improving health and development of vulnerable children

Jelena Komanchuk hopes research into digital educational parenting program will promote equitable access to parenting knowledge for families
Doctoral student Jelena Komanchuk, BN'13
Doctoral student Jelena Komanchuk, BN'13

Star UCalgary Nursing graduate student Jelena Komanchuk, BN’13, has always been interested in child welfare. “As a child, I was concerned when children experienced homelessness, had inadequate access to food and lived in unsafe environments, and I wanted to help people.”  

Komanchuk has translated her concern into a successful career, first on a general paediatric unit, later on a neonatal intensive care unit, paediatric day surgical unit and paediatric emergency department, and now as a highly awarded doctoral student (post candidacy).

Most recently, she received the faculty’s Pursuit of Excellence 2022 Inspirational Graduate Student Award and the prestigious 2021 grant Joyce Fitzpatrick Award from the International Society for Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses, and has been awarded several Canadian Nurses Federation honours like the Bianca Beyer Award and the Lundbeck Canada Mental Health Nursing Award. 

“As a paediatric registered nurse, I observed noteworthy developmental and health inequities experienced by children exposed to early adversity, such as neglect and abuse, but felt limited in my capacity to effect change,” she says about her reasons for pursuing graduate studies.

“I decided I wanted to gain expertise in developing and evaluating early interventions for children exposed to adversity,” she continues, adding that she chose UCalgary Nursing to receive mentorship “from exceptional nursing leaders.  

I was ecstatic to receive supervision from Dr. Nicole Letourneau due to her extensive research successes and close alignment of our research interests.  

Letourneau, RN, PhD, is arguably one of the top Canadian nursing researchers in the area of supports for vulnerable children and interventions to address toxic caregiving environments, and Komanchuk is more than grateful to have been learning by her side. 

“Dr. Letourneau has positively influenced my graduate trajectory by introducing me to numerous Calgary community agencies and leading national and international researchers in child health and development, and by sharing knowledge on conferences, grants and scholarships.”

Komanchuk’s doctoral research was evaluating the effectiveness of the First Pathways Game, a digital educational parenting program developed by Komanchuk’s co-supervisor Dr. Judy Cameron, PhD, renowned neuroscientist from the University of Pittsburgh, on parent-child interaction quality and children’s development.

“I recruited families with children from newborn to three years who were experiencing vulnerability, such as family violence and low socioeconomic status, to participate in a randomized controlled trial,” she explains.

Since families experiencing vulnerability report numerous barriers to accessing in-person supports, digital parenting resources have potential to support children’s short and long-term health and development by promoting equitable access to parenting knowledge”  

The research is now at the stage of data coding and Komanchuk’s next step is to analyze that data to determine if the First Pathways Game improved parent-child interactions.

“The game has potential for widespread, sustainable use because it is freely available online,” says Komanchuk. “Many families in our study expressed gratitude for access to the game and for the opportunity to participate in research during a pandemic. 

“I hope that our research encourages community agencies, health-care professionals and other researchers to utilize digital strategies to increase their reach to individuals experiencing vulnerability,” she continues. 

Komanchuk is also grateful to Letourneau and UCalgary Nursing for the opportunity to finish her PhD online, which allowed her to relocate to Vernon, B.C. Komanchuk explained that moving to Vernon has motivated her to find personal balance.

“The faculty’s hybrid online/in-person model has been fantastic. When I’m not working, I’ve been learning how to mountain bike, wake surf and ski!” 

Komanchuk plans to defend her PhD in early 2023 and says she will pursue post-PhD education to help her attain additional skills and knowledge.  “I am committed to improving the health and development of children experiencing vulnerability.” 

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