Meet Alumna Dr. Helena Piccinini-Vallis

Tell me a little about you:

I am an associate professor in family medicine. Most of my time is dedicated to research.

Where were you born and raised?

Born in São Paulo (Brazil) and raised in Brazil, USA, Switzerland and Canada.

What degree(s) do you have, and from what universities?

BMedSc: Memorial University of Newfoundland

MSc: Dalhousie University

MD: Dalhousie University

PhD: Western University

Where do you practice medicine and in what scope? What are your research interests?

I am a clinician researcher in Family Medicine at Dalhousie University. My research interests pertain mostly to weight-related issues during pregnancy. I undertake clinical research.

Why did you choose to pursue a MCISc/PhD in the Department of Family Medicine at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry?

I decided to pursue a PhD because I have a passion for academia, and also I believe a PhD will allow me to be more competitive when applying for funding.

Is there an experience of your time in the program that stands out for you, an “ah hah” moment?

Yes, during my second year, when I realized the depth of my interest in the Theoretical Foundations of Family Medicine. That was a course that interested me beyond all my expectations.

How do the writings and the person of Dr. Ian McWhinney influence your work in your career overall?

I never met Dr. McWhinney. However, his reputation is second to none. His writings are so insightful. His definition of patient-centeredness as an approach in which the physician “tries to enter the patient’s world, to see the illness through the patient’s eyes” has become a foundation for my clinical practice and teaching.

What has been your greatest experience to date in your teaching / research career?

I love theory - it renders research so “elegant” (in the words of one of my professors at Western). I love conducting theory-driven research.

What are your thoughts about the Patient-Centred Clinical Method as it relates to teaching, research and clinical practice?

It is critical to having a practice that is meaningful to both patients and providers. Saves a lot of time and builds long-lasting relationships. I wonder if it might even protect against burnout!

What MClSc / PhD learning have you incorporated into your family medicine practice as a result of the program?

Mostly the Patient-Centred Clinical Method (PCCM). I reflect on that daily with the learners I work with.

Tell us about your experience in developing your research idea for your thesis / RP/ME.

It was a slower process than I had anticipated. I would suggest that a pre-requisite for acceptance into the program should be a fairly well-developed idea for the thesis. I did not have a well-developed idea.

Please describe the role of your supervisor in completing your thesis work, RP / ME.

I learned a tremendous amount from my supervisor, and I find myself using her approaches when I work with my own learners. However, I also learned a lot from the other members of my committee as well. Everyone had their own unique contributions.

Has your teaching / research changed as a result of the MClSc / PhD program?

Absolutely. I am much more confident with research design, methods, statistics, etc. I can write much more clearly. I am also much more effective in my mentoring of students (pertaining to research).

What would you consider the single most important benefit of the MClSc / PhD program?

The experience of personal growth, in particular I learned so much about myself.

Anything further you would like to add or share?

I thank my department at Dalhousie University for all the support I received over my “PhD years”. It was a wonderful journey, but I am glad to be on the other side.