Caregiver Profiles

PhD Student Wins VHA’s Award Supporting Children with Medical Complexity in the Homecare Setting


When Francine Buchanan welcomed her son into the world in 2013, her whole life changed. “The combination of being born both prematurely and with major birth defects kept my son in the hospital for 507 days on a ventilator and feeding tube,” says Francine who was the first ever winner of our Graduate Student Award Supporting Children with Medical Complexity. While spending 16 hours a day in the ICU for the first year and a half of her son’s life, Francine watched the interactions between parents and their children’s nurses and doctors. “I observed how doctors use the information from parents and how parents fit into their child’s care team. I noticed that there’s a glaring gap between how health information is shared, documented and then accessed.”

With a background in business strategy, Francine spent 15 years scanning the marketplace to help guide the decisions of CEOs and executives. “I quickly realized that these skills could be transferred to the sharing of information and decision making that doctors do,” notes Francine. With the new demands of having a child with complex health needs, and the realization that she couldn’t continue on her existing career path, an interest in Health Informatics began.

Francine applied to graduate studies at the University of Toronto six months before her son was discharged and started classes two months after her son came home. “This new direction was my therapy. Everything was focused around my son and I felt so helpless. The doctors were doing everything they could, but I needed to do something too.”

Francine is now a PhD candidate in Health Services Research at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation. Buchanan’s work is focused on improving the healthcare system for children with medical complexity and the parents that provide around-the-clock care. Francine acknowledges that, “While children with medical complexity only make up less than one per cent of the paediatric population in Ontario, they comprise 32 per cent of the cost of care. As a recently defined population, we just don’t have enough data to find real solutions, lower costs, improve care and keep these children in their homes where they belong.” Francine is taking a step back to first collect the data needed before implementing relevant and practical solutions.

VHA’s Graduate Award was developed to offer mentorship and funding opportunities for promising researchers like Francine, with a focus on children with medical complexity in the homecare sector. Dr. Sandra McKay, Manager of Research and Evaluation at VHA adds that this award recognizes Francine’s, “lived experience, new and innovative work, personal passion and unique perspective as both an academic and parent. She’s a researcher we can learn a tremendous amount from and is a huge asset to our organization.” Dr. McKay notes that identifying emerging young students and investing in research will improve the quality of life for children with complex medical needs and their families.

For Francine this recognition means a lot. “With before and after school care not an option for my son, it’s impossible to juggle a job and my studies. This award allows me to keep going. It not only validates the work that I do, but ensures I can keep doing my research, make a greater impact and support my family.”

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