Nov. 1, 2023

O'Brien Institute for Public Health welcomes Kirsten Fiest as new scientific director

Fiest brings a dedication to research and a vision for community impact to her new role, ushering in a new era of public health excellence
Kirsten Fiest
Kirsten Fiest Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

The O'Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) is pleased to announce its new scientific director, Dr. Kirsten Fiest, PhD. Fiest brings a wealth of expertise, a commitment to advancing public health, and an inspiring vision for the institute's future to the role.

Fiest is an accomplished academic, currently an associate professor of critical care medicine, community health sciences and psychiatry at the CSM. She also served as the director of research and innovation in the Department of Critical Care Medicine.

Fiest's appointment as scientific director ensures a bright future for the O'Brien Institute, says Dr. Todd Anderson, dean of the CSM.

“The dedication to research excellence and education that Dr. Fiest possesses, along with her passion for community impact, will guide the O’Brien Institute in its commitment to advancing public health. With Dr. Fiest's leadership, we are very well positioned to continue shaping a healthier future in our communities,” he says.

Dr. Fiest's academic journey includes earning her PhD in epidemiology from the University of Calgary and completing postdoctoral training in neuro and psychiatric epidemiology at the University of Manitoba. Her research program focuses on advancing the science of patient and family-centred critical care research. She has published over 200 peer-reviewed publications, been cited over 11,000 times, and led and collaborated on research teams that have received over $23,000,000 in funding.

Fiest's experience as the associate scientific director at the O'Brien Institute since the beginning of 2022, and her involvement in the development of the institute's strategic plan, played pivotal roles in preparing her for the scientific director position.

“Dr. Fiest brings a deep commitment to the O’Brien Institute mission of advancing public health through research excellence. Her vision and passion for the institute's future, and her dedication to making a positive impact in the community, promise an exciting new era for public health in Calgary and beyond,” says Gail O’Brien, who along with her husband, David, made a naming donation to the O’Brien Institute in 2012.  

In a recent Q-and-A, Fiest shared insights into her journey and aspirations for her new leadership role at the O'Brien Institute.

Q. What excites you most about taking on the role of scientific director at the O’Brien Institute and contributing to its mission?

A. As a committed researcher, the opportunity to make a positive impact and contribute to the O’Brien Institute mission of advancing public health through research excellence excites me. I am thrilled to work closely with institute members, dedicated staff, and the broader network of community groups that share our mission. I am looking forward to delving into the rich body of research conducted by institute members and taking it to the next level by translating it into policy and creating meaningful impacts in our communities.

Q. What are some of your immediate goals or priorities for your tenure as the scientific director?

A. My immediate goal as scientific director is to establish strong relationships by meeting with individuals within the institute, the Cumming School of Medicine, and the broader community to better understand their priorities and interests. My aim is to enhance the institute's engagement with its members and facilitate greater impact in line with our shared mission.

I am also excited to lead the institute as it continues to enact its Strategic Plan 2022-2027, and look forward to working with everyone to make it a reality.

Q. Could you highlight some of the O’Brien Institute research areas or projects that you're particularly passionate about?

A. I am particularly enthusiastic about the upcoming launch of the O’Brien Institute Health Equity HUB this month, which is a key part of our strategic plan. This initiative is dedicated to helping health equity scholars translate their research into action, collaborating with community groups to create meaningful change. Additionally, I am excited to support the institute’s Centre for Health Policy and encourage evidence-informed policy discussions that will produce meaningful change.

Q. What message would you like to convey to the O'Brien Institute's members, researchers, and the University of Calgary community as you embark on this new role?

A. O’Brien Institute researchers are conducting innovative and impactful research in population health and health systems. I firmly believe in supporting our institute members in conducting high-quality research, expanding collaborations across the university, and forging partnerships with diverse groups. By providing valuable services to our members and encouraging innovation, we can maintain and enhance our institute's reputation for research excellence.

Q. What do you believe are the most significant challenges and opportunities in public health today, and how can the O'Brien Institute address them?

A. Addressing the public health challenges we face today is of paramount importance. I acknowledge that since the COVID-19 pandemic, misinformation has become a significant challenge in public health, and there has been an erosion of trust in evidence-based practices, which has fuelled skepticism toward public health. However, I view this challenge as an opportunity.

By actively engaging with the public and policy-makers in meaningful ways, public health organizations can rebuild the trust that has been lost, and counteract misinformation. Our goal is to ensure that the public is well informed and empowered to make healthier choices, which is essential for the well-being of our communities.

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