Institute welcomes new scientific director

Published: February 10, 2007

Dr. Benjamin Amick became Scientific Director of the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) in January 2007, but he is no newcomer to IWH. He has collaborated with Institute scientists on a number of projects and has held appointments as adjunct or part-time scientist since 1997.

We are delighted to have Dr. Amick join us on a full-time basis, says Institute President Dr. Cameron Mustard. His commitment to high-quality research and knowledge transfer activities, as well as his familiarity with the Institute’s work, will ensure a smooth transition in the scientific leadership at IWH. Most recently, Amick led a systematic review of studies on interventions to prevent musculoskeletal injuries in health-care settings, which was completed in December, 2006.

A multi-disciplinarian from the outset of his career, Amick earned a PhD from John Hopkins University in social epidemiology. His doctoral studies on the health effects of technological change combined epidemiology, organizational sociology and ergonomics. The latter was a relatively new discipline in the early 80s. He completed his doctoral studies while working at the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and spent five years working in the U.S. Congress, translating research into policy. He has published widely, and his most recent appointments were as Associate Professor at the School of Public Heath, University of Texas, Houston, as well as Associate Director for Education, Training and Leadership Development at the Texas Institute for Society and Health.

The Institute for Work & Health represents my view of how research should be conducted. People don’t work in silos of academic expertise, but rather as teams, to try to solve real-world problems in the workplace, he says. Under Amick, the IWH mandate will remain committed to conducting top-quality research relevant to its various stakeholder communities, and to build communication channels to share research findings, as knowledge transfer is one of Amick’s many interests.

Amick is excited that both IWH scientists and the community they serve are unafraid to integrate approaches. The IWH is probably one of the few places in the world that has achieved what many scientists and funding bodies have wanted – a trans-disciplinary research environment. Amick looks for ward to working in an environment where stakeholders want collaboration. He credits this strong collaborative culture to early IWH leadership, and its ongoing commitment in this area. My greatest hope is that I can continue the tradition, and use my expertise and knowledge to foster innovation and support people with their diverse talents and skills, he says.

Amick will also continue research in his own areas of interest. One area is organizational practices, and how organizations construct policies that effectively support return to work, prevention and safety. Another area of interest is in communicating best practices, conducting the types of literature reviews that are useful for different groups, and creating information that can be used by stakeholders. Finally, he is also interested in the idea that health improvements could improve productivity. For instance, he conducted a study to evaluate the effect of ergonomics training and a new, highly adjustable chair at two worksites. The study showed that the combination of both practices not only reduced musculoskeletal injuries, but also improved productivity by about 18 per cent.

Amick anticipates that the coming years will be fun, with plenty of work. His biggest challenge? Not messing up, he quips. Helping a lot of very creative people continue to be creative and productive. That’s going to be my enjoyment.