Alexandra Harris receives the Adel Sedra Distinguished Graduate Award

18 March 2015

Alexandra Harris, a PhD student in the Lawrence Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, says she really loves connecting with people.

She has done a masterful job at it, and it means the health care profession in Canada has reaped the benefits of her work. She is the 2015 winner of the Adel S. Sedra Distinguished Graduate Award.

“It’s a real honour to win the award,” Ms. Harris said in an interview. “It is a wonderful appreciation” of her academic achievements but also the extra-curricular work she has done.

Professor Linda McGillis Hall, Associate Dean of Research and External Relations at the Bloomberg faculty, says “Ms. Harris’s leadership skills are remarkable and point to her ability to build networks and collaboration among peers and colleagues.”

As an undergraduate, Ms. Harris led a national organization dedicated to inter-professional education, leading to collaboration with provincial, federal and international experts. As a registered nurse, she developed the New Nurses Leadership Group in concert with an informal mentorship program.

One of her other major achievements is founding the Emerging Health Leaders Toronto Chapter.  She is Executive Director of the group, which is part of a national peer network that seeks to promote dialogue among young health leaders about how to effect change in their organizations and in the health system itself.

Ms. Harris says “I never really saw myself as a researcher,” but “got the bug” when she was working as a Research Assistant at UofT, during her clinical years as an Emergency Room nurse.

But her desire to really make a difference in the health care field goes back to a time early in her career when she was an intern for the Chief Nurse Scientist at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva.

During her experience there she noticed that nursing and midwifery did not have the same degree of influence as other departments and divisions. Because of that, she has committed herself to a career where she can “meaningfully contribute to the advancement and strengthening of my profession, both through nursing scholarship and leadership.”

Under the mentorship of Dr. McGillis Hall she has observed how “targeted inquiry can inform health policy development and system re-design. As such, I would like to pursue a career as a nurse scientist, focusing on topics related to health human resources and nursing administration.”

She expects to complete her PhD in December, 2016, and hopes to build a program of research based on her doctoral work, which explores the impact of nursing intellectual capital on organizational performance. She would also, in the long term, “further examine and articulate the value of investing in nursing for the delivery of quality patient care.”

Ms. Harris has been selected as a prestigious Junior Fellow at Massey College, received an Ontario Graduate Scholarship, a CIHR Doctoral Research award and serves as a graduate student governor on Governing Council at U of T. In 2013 she received the Dean’s Medal honouring the student with the highest academic record in the Master’s program at the Faculty of Nursing.

She also received the Betty Watt Award for Courageous Leadership during her time at the University Health Network (UHN).  Joy Richards, Vice-President, Health Professions and Chief Nursing Executive at UHN, said during Ms. Harris’s time as Innovation Project Manager within Richards’ New Knowledge and Innovation portfolio, she “demonstrated a natural ability for engaging and connecting with people. She exemplified a truly inter-professional and results-driven approach to her work.”

Ms. Harris said “I have always been drawn to roles in which I can empower and lead teams and so my ongoing ambition is to be a leader in health care.” Not clear about what specific positions she hopes to hold, “I am inspired by leaders working in organizations such as the Canadian Nurses Association, and hope to follow in their footsteps.”

The Adel S. Sedra Distinguished Graduate Award was created in 2002 in recognition of the remarkable contributions made by Professor Adel Sedra during his nine-year term as Vice-President and Provost. Among his many accomplishments during his tenure at U of T, Professor Sedra spearheaded the University’s efforts to provide minimum funding to its full-time doctoral stream students.

This award is presented along with several other faculty, staff and student awards under the banner of Awards of Excellence.  A complete list of this year’s recipients and their citations will be on the Awards of Excellence website.  This award program annually recognizes the outstanding members of the University of Toronto community who have made rich and meaningful contributions to the University, their communities and to the world.  Alumni Relations within the Division of University Advancement is the steward of the Awards of Excellence program on behalf of the University of Toronto Alumni Association, and co-ordinates the vital contributions of other University stakeholder groups toward this prestigious award progam.

Ms. Harris and all other 2015 Awards of Excellence recipients will be honoured at a ceremony at the Isabel Bader Theatre on April 13.