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Janet Parsons, PhD, MSc, BSc(PT), BA

Staff Research Scientist, Applied Health Research Centre and Keenan Research Centre, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael’s Hospital
Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, University of Toronto
Associate, Graduate Department of Rehabilitation Science, University of Toronto

Applied Health Research Centre,
Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute,
St. Michael’s Hospital,
30 Bond Street,
Toronto, Ontario M5B 1W8
Phone: 416-864-6060 ext. 7111


Janet Parsons’ program of research is focused on the development and application of qualitative methodologies to study a range of issues in health services and health policy. While her work encompasses a variety of topic areas and approaches, she specializes in narrative and visual methods. Theoretically, she draws on the work of Arthur Frank and other narrative theorists, and is also interested in theories of representation, the role of images, and their intersection with text. How stories can be used to inform our understanding of patients’ experiences, clinicians’ practices and policy uptake is a major focus. Along with her colleague James Lavery (a fellow scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital and an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health) she has developed a new film-based research method called Brokered Dialogue, which explores how stories are shared and taken up by others, and how those with divergent perspectives encounter one another.  

Janet is experienced in mixed methods research, because of her extensive collaborations with investigators from a broad range of disciplines. She has a specific interest in arts-based methods of inquiry and knowledge translation, and is a founding member of a national collaborative on arts-based qualitative health research, led by Dr. Katherine Boydell (Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto).

Janet is a physical therapist who practiced for 18 years in acute care settings, primarily in the areas of surgical oncology and critical care. She earned her MSc and PhD from the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Toronto. Her doctoral thesis entailed a narrative study of experiences of illness work, vocational work and identity work amongst persons treated for primary bone cancer. She undertook postdoctoral training at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital, in a CIHR-funded program focusing on the health of marginalized populations. Currently, she is a research scientist with the Applied Health Research Centre at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital. She is cross-appointed as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at University of Toronto, as well as being an Associate of the Graduate Department of Rehabilitation Science, School of Graduate Studies. She is also a Fellow at the Centre for Critical Qualitative Health Research.

Research Interests

Janet's research interests include: experiences of illness and disability (cancer, mental illness, HIV, work-related injury, etc.); health equity (including health disparities, neighbourhood influences on health, poverty and homelessness, social determinants of health; health policy (including funding policy for drugs and health technologies, citizen engagement); and health services delivery (including practice issues, practice improvements, family practice, physiotherapy practice, oncology practice, the intersection of health and social care).

Sample Publications

Parsons JA, Heus L, Moravac C. (2013 – early online publication 2012): Seeing voices of health disparity: Evaluating arts projects as influence processes. Evaluation and Program Planning, 36 (1): 165-171.

Parsons JA, Zdanowicz Y, Brezden-Masley C, Sheppard AJ, Grenville A, Kauffman C, Jiang D, Baxter NN, Bryant H, Klein D. (2012) Canadians’ attitudes and awareness towards colorectal cancer screening: Results of a national survey. The Open Colorectal Cancer Journal, 5: 38-46. 

Parsons JA & Lavery JV. (2012) Brokered dialogue: A new research method for controversial health and social issues. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 12: 92.  

Sheppard AJ, Salmon C, Balasubramaniam P, Parsons J, Singh G, Jabbar A, Zaidi Q, Scott A, Nisenbaum R, Ramsay J, Dunn J, Haque N, O’Campo P. (2012 – early online). Are residents of downtown Toronto influenced by their urban neighbourhoods? Using concept mapping to examine neighbourhood characteristics and their perceived impact on self-rated mental well-being. International Journal of Health Geographics, 11: 31.  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-11-31.

Parsons JA & Boydell KM. (2012).  Arts-based knowledge translation: Some key considerations for health professionals. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 26 (3): 170-172.

Yu C, Parsons J, Mamdani M, Lebovic G, Shah B, Battacharyya O, Laupacis A, Straus S. (2012)  Designing and evaluating a web-based self-management site for patients with type 2 diabetes - systematic website development and study protocol. BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, 12: 57.

Boydell KM, Volpe T, Cox S, Katz A, Dow R., Brunger F., Parsons J, Belliveau G, Gladstone B, Zlotnik-Shaul R., Cook S., Kamensek O, Lafrenière D, Wong L.(2012) Ethical challenges in arts-based health research. International Journal for the Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice, 6 (11): 1 – 17.

Parsons JA, Mamdani M, Bhattacharyya O, Fortin CM, Melo M, Salmon C, Raptis SR, Bain D,O’Campo P. (2011) Narcotic analgesic utilization amongst injured workers: Using concept mapping to understand current issues from the perspectives of physicians and pharmacists. BMC Health Services Research 11 (10): 280 (1-13).

McKellar JM, Cheung D, Lowe M, Willems J, Heus L, Parsons J. (2011) Healthcare providers' perspectives on an interprofessional education intervention for promoting community re-engagement post stroke. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 25 (5): 380-382

Shah BR, Bhattacharyya O, Yu C, Mamdani M, Parsons JA, Straus S, Zwarenstein M. (2010). Evaluation of a toolkit to improve cardiovascular disease screening and treatment for people with Type 2 diabetes: Protocol for a cluster-randomized pragmatic trial. Trials 11: 44 (1-7).

Parsons JA, Singh G, Scott AN, Nisenbaum R, Balasubramaniam P, Jabbar A, Zaidi Q,  Sheppard A, Ramsay J, O’Campo P, Dunn J. (2010) Standardized observation of neighbourhood disorder: Does it work in Canada? International Journal of Health Geographics 9: 6 (1-19).

Parsons JA, Eakin JM, Bell RS, Franche RL, Davis A. (2008) “So, are you back to work yet? Re-conceptualizing ‘work’ and ‘return to work’ in the context of primary bone cancer. Social Science & Medicine 67: 1826-1836.

Individual Works (Films)

Parsons JA, Lavery JV, Rowland W. (2012). “Great Expectations: A Brokered Dialogue with the Ontario Citizens’ Council”. Funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care through a grant from the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network.

Lavery JV, Parsons JA, Rowland W. (2009 and 2011). ‘Venus and Mars: A Brokered Dialogue’. (2 versions – short – 15 minutes; long version 35 minutes) Brokered Dialogue Productions. Funded by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technology in Health (governmental organization).

Fryszberg I, Parsons J. and members of Creative Works Studio, St. Michael’s Hospital (2012). “What’s Art Got to Do With It?” Director: Isabel Fryszberg. Co-producers: Janet Parsons & Isabel Fryszberg. Loon on a Limb Productions. * Role: Co-I, co-producer of film, assisted in study design, data analysis, contributed to film editing, writing and production. Funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (KT MPD Grant).