By: Keri Sweetman
Amanda Davison wants every Albertan living with cancer to know they are receiving the best possible medical care that current data and research can provide — and it’s her job to make sure that happens.
Davison is executive director of Cancer Research and Analytics (CR&A), a portfolio embedded within Cancer Care Alberta at Alberta Health Services (AHS). The four-year-old scientific investigative group is tasked with using data analytics and research to improve the outcomes and experiences of Albertans facing cancer.
CR&A has 200 people working behind the scenes, mainly in Edmonton and Calgary, to improve cancer care and create a better, more responsive cancer research environment where clinical questions can be asked and answered as quickly as possible. The team includes data analysts, experimental oncology researchers, biostatisticians, epidemiologists, cancer registrars, prevention researchers and patient experience partners.
“Everything we do within Cancer Research and Analytics is for the betterment of patients,” says Davison, who describes CR&A as the bridge to enable and inspire great research for all Albertans facing cancer.
Davison says data is one cornerstone of understanding how well the cancer-care system is working and, when needed, making essential changes for the betterment of patients.
“If I was a patient, I’d want to know that my physician has the best information, the most accurate information at their fingertips based on current practice,” explains Davison. “The best way we can do that is to be organized, efficient and effective and to work with our clinical colleagues in the care system to make sure they’re asking and we’re answering their questions.”
Those clinical colleagues are healthcare providers and teams who care for cancer patients.
CR&A Leaders from Alberta’s Tomorrow Project
Davison and scientific director Dr. Paula Robson have led CR&A together since it launched in June 2018. Both came to CR&A from Alberta’s Tomorrow Project, the largest health-research cohort in Western Canada, with a data repository from 55,000 participants. Alberta’s Tomorrow Project is now one of eight groups under CR&A’s umbrella.
Davison, born and raised in Edmonton, brings a unique background to the job. She has a BA in sociology from the University of Alberta, a public relations diploma from MacEwan University and an MBA in management consulting from Royal Roads University. She loves strategy and putting things in motion to make organizations perform better. She also enjoys helping people shine in their own light.
“There are so many intelligent and inspiring people, and when they hit that zone where they’re working at what they’re good at and what they enjoy, that’s the spice of life,” says Davison. “I like figuring out how to make that happen.”
After working in the University of Alberta faculty of medicine and later the department of pediatrics, Davison moved into the field of cancer care in 2011 and was executive associate to Dr. Tony Fields, then vice-president of cancer care for Alberta Health Services. She moved to Alberta’s Tomorrow Project as strategic director in 2012, before taking on her current role within Cancer Care Alberta.
“There’s something uniquely different when you work in the cancer program — there’s a pull,” she says. “The people around you are there for a reason. Cancer touches everybody in some capacity. And you see people are working with such purpose because it means something to them, and they want to make an impact.”
Team-Building First Priority
Robson says Davison is incredibly good at bringing people together into highly effective teams — a big task when CR&A first formed. Davison planned an inaugural meeting in Red Deer where the Calgary- and Edmonton-based leaders in analytics and research could come together for the first time.
“Under Davison’s leadership, one of the big things we had to do was make the team feel like they fit together, that they were a logical grouping with a common aim of bringing research and analytics skills together to improve cancer outcomes,” says Robson.
Davison is also adept at partnership-building, adds Robson. Together, they have built partnerships with funders and the academic sector, the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute and the Cancer Research Institute of Northern Alberta, the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, the Cross Cancer Institute and others.
After some initial reorganization, there are now eight groups in the CR&A portfolio. These include advanced analytics (including surveillance and reporting, the Alberta Cancer Registry and data integrity and integration), cancer epidemiology and prevention research, the Alberta Cancer Research Biobank, Alberta’s Tomorrow Project, experimental oncology, research partnership and investment, health services research and applied research and patient experience.
The latter group works with staff, patients and caregivers to measure and record patients’ symptoms, experiences and outcomes. Some of the tools they have created include the My Care Conversations smartphone app, which allows patients to record and review their appointments, Patient Reported Outcomes (PROs) and reports to document symptoms while undergoing cancer treatment.
DECIDe Will Streamline Access to Cancer Data
Much of Davison’s recent focus has been on launching a ground-breaking new project called Data Environment for Cancer Inquiries and Decisions (DECIDe). It will provide streamlined access to a single source of comprehensive, linked Alberta cancer patient information for researchers, data scientists, analysts and others.
Currently, researchers who need cancer data have access to up to seven different sources, including the Alberta Cancer Registry, ARIA Medical Oncology, the Alberta Cancer Research Biobank and others. It can take months to link and gather data, a timeline that will be far shorter with DECIDe.
Davison says they anticipate rolling out the first phase of DECIDe after the launch of Connect Care (AHS’s electronic clinical information system) across all cancer centres in November 2022. The initial phase will include the legacy cancer electronic medical record (ARIA Medical Oncology), as well as Connect Care, the Alberta Cancer Registry and other databases commonly used to create reporting dashboards and address cancer-related questions. Subsequent phases, which will pull selected research databases into DECIDe and expand links with other sources of cancer information, will occur within two or three years.
This will make DECIDe the most comprehensive cancer data source in the world, says Davison. “It will catapult us into a new, more effective and efficient landscape.”
Davison is proud of the team she and Robson have built at CR&A, and says she’s inspired by the people she works with. At home, Davison and her husband have three daughters, aged eight, six and three, and they keep her busy with soccer and evening activities. But, she always looks forward to retreating to her home office during the workday.
Unlike most of her colleagues at CR&A, when Davison started, she had no personal connections to cancer. Sadly, in 2020, she lost her beloved godmother, Karen, to the disease. But, while the loss was devastating, Davison took solace in knowing Karen had received the best treatment possible because she was cared for in Alberta.
“Even in the darkest sadness of losing her,” she says, “I knew so many of my colleagues were constantly working together to discover and create better futures for people facing cancer.”
Amanda Davison’s Career Highlights
Graduates from Royal Roads University with an MBA in executive management
Begins a career in research leadership as the strategic director for Alberta’s Tomorrow Project
Alberta’s Tomorrow Project completes recruitment of 55,000 participants, making it the largest research study in Alberta
Becomes the executive director of cancer research and analytics with Cancer Care Alberta, Alberta Health Services