With her background in cardiovascular nursing, Dr. April Manuel of Memorial's School of Nursing has a long-standing interest in matters of the heart.
So for her PhD dissertation in Community Health she chose Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC) as her research topic, focusing specifically on the experiences of individuals living in families at risk for ARVC.
She wanted to find out how they construct the meaning of being at risk.
Dr. Manuel's dissertation, submitted just last spring, is a ground-breaking piece of work that is now in the running for a national Distinguished Dissertation Award from the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS).
The School of Graduate Studies at Memorial receives a number of dissertations from schools and faculties every year, and chooses two submissions for the prestigious prize; one for engineering, medical sciences and natural sciences, and one for arts, humanities and social sciences.
The CAGS award recognizes Canadian doctoral dissertations that make unusually significant and original contributions to their academic field.
"Dr. Manuel's dissertation.....constitutes a significant piece of original work," wrote Dr. Fern Brunger, associate professor of health care ethics in the Faculty of Medicine's Division of Community Health and Humanities when she nominated Dr. Manuel for the distinguished dissertation award.
"Dr. Manuel's observation that risk perception is not just shaped by science but in fact also shapes science is tremendously important and is a major contribution to the field."
It is fitting that Dr. Manuel's innovative research comes from this province.
Just a few years ago researchers from Memorial University's Faculty of Medicine, led by geneticist Dr. Terry Lynn Young, discovered the gene responsible for ARVC. Dr. Young and team also developed a reliable test to detect it.
It was a significant discovery, particularly in this province. For so many years the deadly condition had caused the premature deaths of many young men.
Dr. Manuel's interest in ARVC stems from her background in cardiovascular nursing, and her work with this particular client group and their families.
"I think it's really important that health care providers are aware of the practical and everyday challenges facing people living in a family with a genetic condition, as they try to understand their risk and that of their family members," said Dr. Manuel. "Using a qualitative approach my research provides a voice for participants to inform health care providers about their needs. It's information that can help in development of a plan of care to reflect the needs of this population."
Dr. Manuel hopes her work may help guide development of future research examining the decision making process of those individuals offered predictive genetic testing.