New IWH senior scientist highlights chronic disease

The health of older workers is a focus of research for the Institute for Work & Health and its newest senior recruit.

Published: July 26, 2012

Chronic disease, increasingly policy-relevant in an aging society, is an emerging priority at the Institute for Work & Health (IWH). This spring, the Institute reinforced its commitment to this area by engaging a senior scientist who’s a leading authority: Dr. Monique Gignac.

An IWH adjunct scientist since 2003, Gignac is well-known at the Institute. Over the course of her career as a social scientist in health and work, Monique Gignac has become very familiar with the central ideas in the work that we undertake, says IWH President and Senior Scientist Dr. Cameron Mustard.

There’s a lot of common ground. Chronic disease, older workers and labour force participation has been her focus, and this is an emerging focus of ours, says Mustard. We’ve identified this as an area in which we want to have strength. He adds that Gignac’s expertise in health interview surveys (which allow researchers to see how working conditions influence health, and vice versa) will be a major asset to IWH.

Outside IWH, Gignac wears many hats. She is a senior scientist with the Division of Health Care & Outcomes Research at the Toronto Western Research Institute, an associate professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and, in 2008, she became co-scientific director of the Canadian Arthritis Network.

With such diverse experience, Gignac works comfortably with colleagues from a variety of disciplines—epidemiology, statistics and clinical practice—and has published broadly. Gignac’s communication skills have, no doubt, aided these scientific collaborations, but she is also skilled at engaging with non-research audiences through a communication style that Mustard describes as “clear and thoughtful.”

Vulnerability over the life course

Gignac is pleased to be joining IWH. The researchers here are very creative, she says.

While underscoring the invisible and unpredictable nature of chronic conditions and the duty to accommodate workers with disabilities, Gignac hopes to apply a life-course perspective to issues around employment, to look at vulnerability at different times in a person’s working life, and to explore the interrelationship between physical disability and mental health.

Joining IWH has changed Gignac’s outlook. She formerly approached research from the clinical side (disease/illness), and now she’s approaching it from the other side: how work affects health. It flips my perspective; it balances me, she says. It’s a way to get me thinking differently. It’s a really exciting learning opportunity.