Award: Family Medicine Resident Research Grant Competition recipient announced

In its second year, the Family Medicine Resident Research Grant Competition has awarded Dr. Jennifer Gray for her project entitled, “Do rural adolescents that use social media with a high degree of literacy experience less psychological distress? Exploring the social media behaviours and mental health outcomes of a sample of adolescents in Petrolia, Ontario.

The Department of Family Medicine and the Centre for Studies in Family Medicine launched the Family Medicine Resident Research Grant Competition in 2020. The competition is open exclusively to PGY1 family medicine residents at Western, with up to $5,000 of funding awarded each year.

The competition was established to promote high-level primary care research while building grant preparation and writing skills. All first year family medicine residents are eligible to apply.

Spearheaded by Lawrence Yau (PGY2 – Mt. Brydges), the competition is a great opportunity for residents to use as a stepping stone for much larger national level grants in the future.

In congratulating Dr. Gray on her winning entry, we discussed her experience with research and how the competition has provided her with great encouragement.


Tell me a bit about yourself, and your past research experience. 

I'm a PGY1 at the Rural Petrolia Program, and originally from Petrolia.  It's been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be learning from and working alongside the healthcare team in my hometown.  Especially given the ongoing pandemic, I'm so pleased with my choice to come home to train as the value of family and community has never been more important.  

My past research experience is certainly not extensive, but I did complete a thesis project in my undergraduate years which studied the effect of nightshift work on cardiovascular function in a sample of nurses.  I also wrote a feature article for the UWOMJ in medical school on burnout in the medical profession.


Discuss your winning entry and research project. What were you hoping to achieve, how did the grant funding support your research, and your plans to further your research in the future.

My project explores how social media use impacts adolescent mental health.  Specifically, I aim to determine whether teens with a greater level of social media literacy, meaning the ability to contextualize and think critically about online content, experience less psychological distress as a result of their use.  There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that smartphone and social media use is detrimental to mental health in this age group, but especially for rural teens living and learning in a now physically distant world, discouraging use is not just impractical but may be harmful in other ways.  My goal is to identify whether promotion of social media literacy routinely - in either educational or primary and mental health care settings - would be a viable harm reduction strategy to address this problem.

The adolescent age group can be difficult to engage and this research grant will be predominantly used to offer small incentives for completion of an online survey.  This will greatly support the project as completion rate will likely be the greatest barrier to a well-powered study.  It is my hope that results of this project will be used as a platform for future research in both clinical problem-solving and curricula development to improve adolescent mental health outcomes in Petrolia and Lambton County.  


What did you learn from the experience?

I have already learned a great deal, and the learning curve continues!  Adrienne (Postgraduate Academic Program Coordinator) has been an amazing guide throughout the proposal writing and ethics approval process, and of course my supervisor Dr. Butler has offered great advice on keeping objectives clear, practical and meaningful.  


What suggestions or recommendations do you have for peers hoping to apply for grant funding?

A research project can be daunting, especially if you don't have a significant background in academia, but it can also be very fulfilling!  If you see a problem or a need within the community that you're working in, or if you have an interest in an initiative, don't be afraid to read more into what others are doing in the field and formulate your own project.  Keep an open mind and see where the process takes you.  There are lots of supports to help you achieve your goals.  Finally, apply to all the grants you can manage.


What are your future plans/goals, and how will this award shape them.

My future goals include working within the fields of both family and emergency medicine, ideally in a rural or regional setting.  I also have an interest in mental health promotion and hope to one day be involved in relevant initiatives at the community level.  This award refines the latter goal as it supports completion of a relevant project from start to finish and reinforces the notion that small ideas stemming from an observed problem can become practical solutions. It certainly nourishes my passion to make a positive impact and I'm so happy that the Department of Family Medicine offers this opportunity.