SREMI Clinician Scientist Profile

Dr. Catherine Varner


SREMI scientist and emergency physician, Dr. Catherine Varner has quickly become a rising star in emergency medicine research and education. In June 2016, Dr. Varner was honoured with the Canadian Association of Emergency Physician (CAEP) New Investigator Award in recognition of her outstanding contribution to research in emergency medicine, specifically pertaining to the novel idea and successful implementation of text messaging to facilitate research participant follow-up.

Nested in her randomized controlled trial evaluating the effectiveness of discharge instructions for minor traumatic brain injury (MTBI), patients receiving text message reminders of upcoming telephone follow-up interviews had lower rates of study attrition than those patients who did not receive text messages (32% vs 10%; ∆ 22%, 95% CI: 5.9%, 34.7%). Dr. Varner’s findings suggest text messaging is an easily-adopted, low-cost technique that can improve study participation and follow-up, particularly in the low-continuity ED setting.


Launching in 2017, a study led by Dr. Varner will evaluate a novel approach to monitoring the compliance of MTBI patients with ED discharge instructions while also comparing two different approaches to counseling patients following MTBI. The randomized control trial will challenge the current ‘sit in a dark room’ treatment dogma following MTBI and will evaluate the impact of prescribing light, daily exercise as compared to avoidance of exercise until symptom free. Recognizing patient compliance with discharge instructions may be variable, fitness tracking devices (ie: FitBits) will be used to measure study participants’ activity levels following their discharge from the ED.

Due to her growing reputation in the field of MTBI research, Dr. Varner was an invited member of the 2016 Summit on Concussion Care and has been invited for media appearances on the topic. At the Summit and subsequent meetings hosted by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, leading concussion experts developed standards of care for the more than 50 concussion clinics that treat patients in Ontario.


Dr. Varner’s research interest extends beyond the area of MTBI. Dr. Varner recently received two grants from the Faculty of Medicine and Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto to design the Family Medicine Obstetrical Ultrasound (FaMOUS) course, which trained 15 family physicians in first trimester point of care ultrasound (POCUS) techniques to identify fetal cardiac activity and exclude ectopic pregnancy. After following these providers for 9 months following certification, they have demonstrated excellent diagnostic accuracy and report POCUS has enhanced the care of their obstetrical patients. This novel course creates a model to teach and certify family physicians who want to utilize 1st trimester POCUS in the office setting to exclude ectopic pregnancy and offer patients more immediate clinical information regarding their pregnancy.

Dr. Varner has received numerous local and national awards for this work, and was most recently honoured at the Richard K. Reznick Wilson Centre Research Day in November 2016.

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