Critical care professor wins top national prize

Deborah Cook is a professor of medicine, and health research methods, evidence, and impact at McMaster University.

Deborah Cook, a renowned McMaster University professor, researcher and physician, has been named the recipient of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Gold Leaf Prize for Impact.

The Gold Leaf Prizes are among the country’s highest and most prestigious honours that can be bestowed on an individual or team for excellence in health research and making a difference in the lives of Canadians. Only four awards are made every two years.

Cook said the award is a tremendous honour, but one that is not hers alone.

“This award reflects the enthusiastic contributions of hundreds of colleagues, collaborators, staff and students in Hamilton and across the country to the work I’ve led,” said Cook, professor in the departments of medicine, and health research methods, evidence, and impact of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

Cook is a Distinguished University Professor at McMaster, and holds the Canada Research Chair of Research Transfer in Intensive Care. She is a critical care physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. She is also an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Cook’s research improves the treatment of patients who are fighting critical illnesses in hospitals or facing end-of-life situations in the intensive care unit (ICU). Her multi-disciplinary research addresses life support technology, the risk factors for critical illness, preventing ICU-acquired complications and research ethics.

Cook’s work is significant because of her focus on discovering effective strategies that make a difference every day for critically ill patients.

Her range of research has included finding a practical way of reducing the risks of complications such as pneumonia, bleeding, organ failure, or blood clots in critically ill patients on ventilators.  For example, she discovered through a clinical trial that involved 67 centres around the world that a new blood thinner given to immobile, critically injured patients can better prevent blood clots and is more cost effective.

Cook is also concerned with enhancing the human touch at the end-of-life in the ICU. The successful Three Wishes Program she developed at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton – and is being adopted in many other centres  — encourages health-care staff and learners to provide personalized wishes for dying patients and their families, to honour individuals in their final days and help ease family member grief.

“Calling forth compassion means a better experience for patients and families, and more meaningful work for those of us dedicated to health care,” said Cook.

“Sometimes humanity doesn’t seem have a place at the table in health care today. In the ICU, we are ensuring that not only the best research evidence is considered in our practice, but also that no matter what, care is compassionate for patients and their families.”

Cook, who grew up in Dundas, Ont., completed her undergraduate medical degree and internal medicine training at McMaster, then pursued an advanced fellowship in critical care medicine at Stanford University. She returned to McMaster to complete her MSc in design, measurement and evaluation, joining the faculty in 1990.    

She will accept the $100,000 Gold Leaf Prize to further her research from Gov. Gen. Julie Payette at a ceremony in Ottawa in June.

Paul O’Byrne, dean and vice president of the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster said: Dr. Deborah Cook has improved the care of critically ill patients both in Hamilton and around the globe.

“As a frontline critical care physician and the first in Canada trained in clinical research methodology, Dr. Cook has helped to reduce the toll of disability and death in intensive care units. But also, with her compassion, she has also enhanced the quality of life for patients and their families through her work in palliative care.”

This is the second Gold Leaf Prize for McMaster professors of medicine since the prizes were created by the federal health research funding council four years ago. Gregory Steinberg, professor of medicine, received the inaugural CIHR Gold Leaf Prize for Outstanding Achievements by an Early Career Investigator in 2016.

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