New research looks at collaboration between healthcare workers in rural communities

By Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Researchers from Lakehead University’s School of Nursing have been observing how health care workers collaborate at the hospital and long term care facility in Fort Frances. The town is one of three communities involved in upcoming research focused on healthcare in rural communities. 

Healthcare workers from Fort Frances are invited to participate in the study by sharing their experiences for a chance to win a small prize, but also to contribute to a better understanding of rural healthcare. 

The interest in rural health care collaboration was prompted when Dr. David Thompson, research lead and associate professor at Lakehead University, questioned how the environment might impact interprofessional collaboration between health care workers. 

Thompson noted that the “environment” refers to the setting in which healthcare workers collaborate, rather than environmental change. “I’m looking at some of the pieces in the setting that might be contributing to collaboration or changing the way people collaborate,” he said. 

Given the many challenges rural areas face, such as severe weather conditions, limited resources and necessary medical evacuations, Thompson aims to bring workers’ voices to the forefront by conducting qualitative research where participants share about their experiences working in health care. 

Existing literature has mainly focused on how people collaborate rather than the impact of one’s surroundings, he said, adding that the project aims to fill the gap in current research.

To participate, those working at the hospital or long-term care facility in Fort Frances are invited to share their experiences in a 45 to 60-minute interview over Zoom or telephone, Thompson said, adding that confidentiality will be maintained. 

“It doesn’t matter what area of the hospital [they work in], anything is fine,” he said, adding that they’re looking for around 25 participants from each of the three northern Ontario communities who are involved in the project.  

Participants will also be added to a draw to win one of three iPad minis, which will take place by the end of the year. “If you do the math, we’re looking for 20-25 people, times three communities, pretty good odds of winning a pretty good piece of equipment,” Thompson said. 

Besides the extrinsic reward, he also noted that the information collected by participating in an interview can potentially help inform ways to support people to work better together. 

“The biggest outcome is to have a better understanding of how healthcare workers in rural communities and their environments interact. So it’s not like a hard product outcome, it’s more like adding to the literature and our understanding,” Thompson said. “But at the end of the day, the reason that we do this — and I think anybody in health research does this — is to improve the environment and improve patient care.”

Alexis Harvey, a research assistant at Lakehead University, has worked closely with a nursing student from Fort Frances and staff at LaVerendrye General Hospital for “participant observation.” 

“The support that we’ve had even just going in to do observations, you know, there’s a point of contact, you go into the unit, that’s all set up, and you just go and do your thing as a researcher, and it’s been really nice to just have that sort of flexibility to just come into the unit as we need and observe,” she said, expressing gratitude for the amount of support they have received from Riverside Health Care. 

Calming some concerns that had arisen, Harvey explained that she is not observing patient interactions, but how workers collaborate, the setting and the tools they use. 

Thompson added that the project is a good hands-on opportunity for the local nursing students from each of the participating communities to get involved in research, an opportunity not often afforded to students from satellite campuses. 

“Normally, these distributed education programs don’t always offer students the same opportunities that students here in Thunder Bay would get to be involved in, so it’s been really nice to involve them. And I’ve also been able to involve students who have kept connections to other communities too. So it’s a neat, nice part of this project as well,” he said. 

The data collection portion of the project should be completed by December 2023, Thompson said, and then analysis will begin. 

Thompson noted that the multi-year project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, one of the federal research funding agencies that supports research and training in humanities and social sciences. 

Healthcare workers in Fort Frances interested in sharing about their experience interacting with their environment and each other can email Thompson at or Harvey at 

“Thank you to the organizations for all of their support, and the people who have already participated. It’s so humbling to have people interested in your work and want to support your ideas and your work. So we’re really, really thankful for that,” Thompson said.