After starting her career as a point-of-care nurse at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Dr. Samantha Mayo has since 2015 been an assistant professor in the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto conducting research and teaching about the use of research in nursing practice. (Photo: Lindsay Curtis/Bloomberg Nursing)

As we mark National Nursing Week, we highlight the variety of roles held by nurses across UHN. Thank you to our nurses for going above and beyond every day.

Working with cancer patients during some of the most challenging times of their lives inspired Samantha Mayo to change the trajectory of her nursing career from clinician to researcher.

Dr. Mayo has been the RBC Financial Group Chair in Oncology Nursing Research at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre since 2019, but she started her career in 2004 as a point-of-care nurse at the centre's inpatient stem cell transplant unit. That clinical experience exposed her to the ways in which a patient's quality of life can suffer even when their cancer is being controlled.

"One of the things I noticed is that patients had a hard time focusing on things like watching TV or reading books and had issues with their memory, attention and concentration," she says.

"Talking with one of the physicians on the unit who eventually became one of my mentors, the late Dr. Hans Messner, we really started to think about the need to understand more about the challenges that people were having with their cognitive functioning after treatment."

Building meaningful research

Dr. Mayo's interest in this "chemo brain" phenomenon would go on to become the focus of her PhD work at the University of Toronto's Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, where she had also earned her bachelor's and master's degrees.

After completing a post-doctoral fellowship in the Princess Margaret's Department of Medical Oncology and Hematology, Dr. Mayo joined the Bloomberg Nursing faculty in 2015 as an assistant professor with a mandate to both conduct research and teach about the use of research in nursing practice.

"Throughout my own studies at Bloomberg Nursing, I had the privilege of being exposed to and inspired by the high calibre of researchers and leaders there who gave me a solid grounding in the principles of evidence-based practice, research methodology and research appraisal," she says. "I really value the opportunity I have now to help today's students explore their own potential as nurse researchers."

Her research primarily explores how cognitive impairments affect individuals treated for blood cancers. Dr. Mayo and her colleagues use questionnaires, qualitative interviews and objective cognitive testing (such as memory and concentration tests) to assess the intensity and duration of impairment.

"We're at the stage now where we're trying to understand who needs what kinds of interventions, and we're in the process of developing a model that can be tested in a clinical setting," she says. "My hope is that we can develop meaningful and effective programs that can improve the quality of life for people and families affected with cancer – and that we can serve as a model nationally, internationally perhaps, as to the direct impact that nurse-led research can have on healthcare.

"That's the big vision."

Becoming a mentor

As chairholder, Dr. Mayo not only leads a program of research, but also provides research mentorship to the hospital's nursing and interprofessional teams. This includes developing trainee opportunities for PhD or undergraduate students and providing support for emerging researchers, such as clinical nurses who want to participate in quality improvement projects or other research in their clinical areas, or advanced practice nurses who want to develop their own research initiatives.

"Building this program of research and integrating nurses at all levels in different projects has been a great gift," says Dr. Mayo. "There's a huge opportunity for innovation and leadership and for nurses to really contribute to shaping where healthcare goes."

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