Carmen Sima — PhD candidate, Pulmonary Rehabilitation Research Laboratory

This March on BLOOM we’re focusing on lung health. We sat down with Carmen Sima, a PhD candidate in Rehabilitation Sciences at UBC who is working in the St. Paul's Hospital Pulmonary Rehabilitation Research Laboratory.

Tell me a little about what happens here at the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Research Laboratory.
The Pulmonary Rehabilitation Research Laboratory is part of the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Clinic and the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation at St. Paul’s Hospital. Pulmonary Rehabilitation is a multidisciplinary program for patients with chronic lung diseases, whose care is individually tailored and designed to optimize physical performance and reduce respiratory symptoms. The program lasts for eight weeks and consists of exercise training and education sessions delivered three times per week by a team of health care providers including physiotherapists, respiratory therapists, dietitians and psychologists. As part of the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program, our research laboratory is dedicated to developing novel, patient-oriented strategies to improve the physical activity and health-related quality of life of individuals with chronic lung diseases.

What is your area of study?
My doctoral research is in rehabilitation sciences and centers on the effects of aerobic exercise training on the cardiovascular health in chronic lung disease patients. Specifically, I am investigating the physiopathological mechanisms that can impede cardiovascular adaptive responses to exercise training in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). My research involves a strong methodological component in which the outcomes of interest are central blood pressure, endothelial function and arterial stiffness.

How did you come to work in the St. Paul’s Hospital Pulmonary Rehabilitation Research Laboratory?
I am a foreign trained medical doctor from Romania. I moved here with my family eight years ago and started my graduate studies at University Victoria in 2007 doing experimental research on cardiovascular and renal physiology. After finishing my Master’s degree I decided to pursue a PhD in a clinical setting because I always loved to work with people. I learned about Dr. Camp’s research in the field of pulmonary rehabilitation and I wanted to explore this emerging field — there’s lots of exciting work to be done.

How is the St. Paul’s Hospital Pulmonary Rehabilitation Research Laboratory changing conventional lung care practice?
It is not about changing conventional lung care practice, but about adding new patient-oriented strategies to deliver higher-quality health care for these individuals. We take advantage of new technologies to better understand the physiopathological mechanisms that can impact the functional capacity in patients with chronic lung diseases. In the long term, our research work will enable us to deliver pulmonary rehabilitation in a new and more efficient way.

What’s the best part of working here in the clinic?
For me, the connection with the patients is very important. The Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program has the particularity of requiring a long-term commitment from the patients. Because we spend a lot of time with them, we get to know them well. It’s an emotional experience to see how some of them took time to express their gratitude by writing us letters and sending us cards. Many of them also express desire to participate in further research studies, understanding that their participation is going to help other people in the future. These are some examples that we make a difference in their lives and make us as a team to feel proud of our work.

What do you love about being part of research here at Providence Health Care?
The investigators here are reputable specialists in their field. As a graduate student, I have the opportunity to present my work to top investigators in pulmonary research during regular Research in Progress sessions. There are also symposiums, conferences and forums where, as a graduate student, I can present my research work and get lots of feedback. Moreover, our centre is called Heart and Lung Innovation, which also implies interdisciplinary collaboration. People are very open, and when I have concerns related to my research projects I can discuss and collaborate with heart disease experts. Lastly, in research, you really need to stay up-to-date with both information and technology — here at Providence, we get the best of that.

Carmen presents her research poster on the relationship between resting heart rate and arterial stiffness in COPD patients and healthy individuals this week at Heart + Lung Health FEST. The Heart + Lung FEST scientific symposium runs March 26–27 in downtown Vancouver and features local, national & international presenters on the latest in heart and lung health research. For the full program visit fest.heartandlung.ca/programme/scientificsymposium/.