As spine surgeons and health-care professionals gathered in the white-capped mountains of Whistler, British Columbia, for the Canadian Spine Society’s annual conference earlier this month, many of them heard from University of Waterloo student, Sarah Hardy.

Sarah Hardy standing next to a digital poster that presents SickKids research.Hardy, a fourth-year biology student, was invited to present research completed as a co-op student at SickKids Hospital in the Orthopaedic Surgery division. During her work term, Hardy’s duties on the spinal pathology registry allowed her to collect essential data for future studies. Her experience shadowing orthopedic spine surgeon Dr. David Lebel also inspired her to propose a side research project that focuses on factors influencing patient satisfaction after scoliosis surgery.

By analyzing patient surveys before and after surgery, Hardy could assess their function, pain, mental health, self-image and satisfaction at both stages to better understand the surgery’s impact on improving a patient's self-image. Her findings show a correction of 47 degrees is associated with a significant improvement in self-image scores. 

Invited to present these findings at the Canadian Spine Society’s annual conference, Hardy was eager to share her insights and learn from other researchers in the field. Her presentation sparked a discussion among colleagues on metrics used to quantify patient outcomes, providing her with insightful feedback she plans to use in her ongoing research.

“Since the quality of our outcomes hinges on the tools we use, it's important to continuously refine our methods to ensure we’re using the most accurate measures to assess outcomes and improve patient care," Hardy says.

Hardy walked away from the conference feeling grateful for the dynamic and collaborative exchange of ideas that offered her a rich learning environment outside of the classroom.

“It was amazing to see my research come to fruition while experiencing the world of academia on a larger stage,” she says. “Having the opportunity to learn about other research projects and ongoing studies highlighted the collaborative nature of the field and motivated me to continue pursuing research.” 

Looking ahead, Hardy intends to apply for medical school and will be preparing for the MCAT exam this summer. While she has developed a passion for surgery, she remains open-minded about exploring different career options while furthering her education.