Cochrane Canada member profile: Denise Thomson

Since joining Cochrane over fifteen years ago, Denise Thomson continues to leave an indelible imprint on the organization and its expanding membership.


The great thing about Cochrane is you have got these incredibly smart and talented people who are just so keen to get involved in important questions and are great to work with,” said Thomson. “It is really difficult to leave a place like this once you have experienced that.”


Thomson’s tenure with Cochrane began in 2004 as Coordinator of the Cochrane Child Health Field. Over the years, the Field has benefitted greatly from her unique insight into how end users, particularly from the world of paediatrics, value Cochrane’s evidence, said Katrina Williams, co-director of Cochrane Child Health. 


“It was clear from the start that Denise would master any role she took on for Cochrane. She has always been a great champion for the vital, but often poorly understood, Field activities, and motivated, regardless of obstacles, to build key partnerships within and outside Cochrane. Her energy, expertise and endurance has influenced the way evidence about children is used by many, making a real difference to child health.”


A true advocate for collaboration and organizational learning, Thomson would eventually go on to establish and chair the Cochrane Fields Executive, a committee on which Cochrane’s Field representatives continue to serve and share experiences and best practices.


As Chair, Denise was consistently inclusive and supportive of the widest possible range of inputs from members; and had a clear vision of the strategic potential across the Fields as a group,” said Craig Lockwood, director of the Cochrane Nursing Field and co-chair of the Cochrane Fields Executive. 


“Throughout the years I have known and worked with Denise, she has exemplified an approach to leadership which is inclusive, which creates opportunities for others to grow, and which focuses on developing the contribution of Fields to Cochrane’s strategic plans.”  


In 2006, Thomson was instrumental in creating the Evidence-based Child Health: A Cochrane Review Journal. The bi-monthly publication, which she served as Managing Editor until its last issue in December 2014, was indexed in Medline and Scopus, and appealed to health practitioners, parents, patients, and other child health advocates. 


With each issue, readers were offered the highest quality child health research evidence available to inform their decision-making and policy development. The journal also featured overviews of Cochrane Reviews, a dedicated section for authors to summarize the evidence from two or more Cochrane Reviews, enabling an understanding of a broader scope of relevant interventions.   


In 2014, Thomson was appointed Field Director of Cochrane Child Health, the same year she was awarded Cochrane’s Chris Silagy Prize for her extraordinary contributions to the organization. 


Denise's dedication to Cochrane is reinforced by the multiple roles that she plays within the organization. Moreover, she generously shares her time, energy, and experience well beyond the expectations of her employment,” Lisa Hartling wrote in her nomination letter for the Cochrane-sponsored award.


A co-director with Cochrane Child Health, and long-time colleague of Thomson’s, Hartling concluded her letter by adding: “Denise is passionate about research and ensuring that the best evidence is available to provide for the health needs of patients, and particularly children, around the world. It is passion and commitment such as demonstrated by Denise that will ensure the sustainability and success of Cochrane.”


Known for her tireless work advancing Cochrane’s knowledge translation (KT) strategy, a critical piece of work that elaborates on Strategy to 2020’s fundamental commitment to the dissemination, use and impact of Cochrane evidence, Thomson has also earned a reputation for her commitment to growing people in their professional capacity. 


Most recently, she served as a mentor under Cochrane’s knowledge translation mentoring scheme, providing guidance and support to early career investigators pursuing KTs projects and activities.     


Ricardo Fernandes, a Lisbon-based co-director with Cochrane Child Health, said he not only admires Thomson’s commitment to advancing the fundamentals of knowledge translation across the organization, but has come to appreciate, and even model, her dedicated approach to work, in general.   


“I came to understand that her consistent way of working applied regardless of the topic or format, and as I watched her work with Cochrane Fields, particularly within Cochrane Child Health, I learned the value of soft-spoken engagement, dialogue, and respectful persistence.”


In 2020, Thomson announced that she would be stepping down as co-director of Cochrane Child Health. While still maintaining her role on Cochrane’s KT Advisory Group, she will focus her efforts on leading a new working group whose mandate is to produce evidence syntheses that are relevant to the health impacts of climate change.


“This new initiative is really exciting,” said Thomson. “We have got a group of about 45 people, all of whom have been very forthcoming with ideas that look closely at measures to reduce the negative impacts of climate change on human health.”


Not at all surprised to hear that Thomson is now turning her attention to climate change research, Fernandes said he is convinced she will approach this endeavor with the same sense of quiet urgency she demonstrated in the field of child health. 


“You can bet good things will come from this, with as little fanfare and as much meaning.”


Additional tributes from colleagues and friends


“When I stepped into the Cochrane Child Health manager role I knew I had some very big shoes to fill. Denise had dedicated a tremendous amount of time and effort into ensuring Cochrane Child Health was at the forefront of knowledge translation in Cochrane. It was great to be able to work closely with Denise and lean on her for advice and guidance as I started to navigate the world of Cochrane.”

 - Sarah Elliott, program manager, Cochrane Child Health

“It is clear how much Denise cares about the importance of Cochrane and its impact, given the long-standing investment in time and energy she has brought to her work and to the leadership roles she has assumed. A true privilege to have had her as part of Cochrane Canada over the years. There is no doubt that the climate change working group will advance because of her leadership.” 

  - Adrienne Stevens, managing director, Cochrane Canada