MCH Nurse Doggedly Pursues her Research

Dr. Janet Rennick looks at psychological impact on children treated in intensive care units

By Lisa Dutton

Normally, Dr. Janet Rennick, an MCH nurse researcher applies a judicious amount of scientific rigour to everything she does. But alas, she let her heart not her head rule when it came to Chloe.  

Chloe is the latest edition to the busy Rennick household. She’s a lovable Portuguese Water Dog. Dr. Rennick didn’t do her research when choosing the family pet. Her brother has a very calm and laid back Portuguese Water Dog, so Dr. Rennick opted for the same breed. Alas, Chloe has slightly altered DNA. The 45-pound dog is filled with energy.

When asked what she does in her free time Dr. Rennick paused, considered, and said, “I don’t have a lot of free time. As a working mum, I try to spend as much time as possible with my kids.” And then there is Chloe!

When not taking care of her kids and the family pet, Dr. Rennick conducts research on the psychological impact of hospitalization on kids. She has been doing work in this area since 1991. She got the idea for this topic while working as a Staff Nurse, and later as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in the pediatric intensive care unit.Parents whose children were discharged from the ICU would call her and say their son or daughter suddenly was having problems sleeping, was afraid of the dark, was afraid of loud noises. All problems they didn’t have prior to being hospitalized. This triggered Dr. Rennick’s interest in the area.

She talked to her colleagues about it and some dismissed the parents’ observations noting that children in the ICU are too sedated to remember anything. But Dr. Rennick wasn’t convinced. She decided to make it the focus of her research.

In fact, she and her colleagues recently developed the Children’s Critical Illness Impact Scale. This 23-item questionnaire designed exclusively for children age six to 12 was designed to allow health care professionals to identify children who need psychological support as a result of their hospital stay. The Journal of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine recently published her research study.

Dr. Rennick takes pride in the advances she’s made in this field. “When parents see the work I’m doing and tell me it’s important, and that it fits with their own experiences – that I am identifying things they see in their child –  that’s the best kind of feedback.  Knowing my work can improve patient care - that I am making a difference…that’s important to me.”

When not immersed in her own research, Dr. Rennick is a mentor and consultant to nurses interested in conducting their own research.

She would like to see more MCH nurses doing research but admits it’s difficult. Nurses may get some time off from their clinical duties to get their research off the ground, but research can take a long time to complete and once a nurse returns to clinical care, he or she no longer has protected time for the research. As a result, the research can drag on for years. Despite this, Dr. Rennick wants to foster enthusiasm about nursing research. “I like to think there are things (treatments) we could be doing better. The challenge is to gather all of the evidence to influence the way nursing and medical care are provided.”

So she will continue to focus on the impact of time spent in the ICU on children in order to gather the evidence and eventually change, for the better, the way these kids are treated.