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Recruit: CCO's PFAC Experience
“I would say do it. It’s a great experience, you meet wonderful people. It’s something that doesn’t come along all the time…and if you’re able to help other people and you have a platform of some sort to do that, I would say take advantage of it.”
– PFAC member



  • Site coordinators at each regional cancer centre connected with patients/family that had expressed interest in contributing to change directly to them or through clinicians, 
  • Site coordinators also displayed posters about joining the council, or sent mass letters/emails to their patient community

Application Process

  • All prospective council members were invited to complete a Baseline Questionnaire/Application online via Fluid Surveys – this included Contact information, demographics, cancer experience/health condition, previous committee experience, thoughts about the PFAC, self-evaluation in relation to role description/expectations
  • A phone interview was also intended to take place, however it was cancelled due to time constraints relating to delayed REB approvals for the research study


  • Target membership was 20-25 patients and family members, and 3-5 regular or contributing staff
  • 16 members were successfully recruited in a 1-month period from 14 provincial cancer centres – 15 female/1 male, 40% breast cancer/20% colorectal/40% other (the original 3-month recruitment period was reduced pending REB approvals for all cancer centres for the research study)

Remuneration and Expense Reimbursement

  • Council members were not compensated for their time, however they were reimbursed for travel expenses (for those travelling under 100 kilometres, all others accessed council meetings remotely) and food (lunch or breakfast, depending on time of day for the council meeting) according to CCO’s expense reimbursement policy
  • Council members were fully reimbursed for travel, accommodation and food expenses relating to the 2-day training session that took place before the council meetings were initiated (all council members were required to attend in person)

Questions that came up

  • What happens if we end up recruiting a vast majority of women with breast cancer? (breast cancer patients are known to be more engaged than others)  Or all men with prostate cancer?  How do we recruit for a wide variety of cancer types (or other health conditions) and sufficient gender mix?
  • How do we screen for patients and family that are ready to be objective about their experiences and willing to contribute meaningfully?  What kind of interview questions do we need to ask them?  How can we prepare them to participate fully and effectively? 
  • What do we tell the patients/family that do not get selected to the council this year?
  • Should we provide remuneration in addition to expense reimbursements (for travel, accommodations and food, where applicable)?  How have other advisory councils addressed compensation?   
“I would encourage any person who has a strong feeling about what could be changed for the better – to just be involved. I love the fact that the province is working to engage the patient and family population, and I feel that only good could come of that.” – PFAC member

Lessons Learned & Recommendations


  • Patients/family with previous council or advisory board experience were able to share helpful insights and ideas about the council process, and adapted quickly to the council format – it is recommended that all potential council members are screened for some previous council experience (through work, school, sports, etc.)
  • Be forthright about the patient’s ability to be objective about their experience when interviewing or surveying them – ask them to share examples of their objectivity in use

Membership: patients, family, staff, others

The Patient and Family Advisory Councils includes both individuals who are/have been patients; family members who have been involved in the care of another person; staff members who support the council and complete the work; and others, who from time to time, the organization or Council invites to the meetings.  Patients and family members bring their experiences to the discussion; and are integral to advising the organization on areas for improvement and change. 

Our decision was to invite at least two individuals from each of the 14 Regional Cancer Programs to be members of the Council.  This ensured that the representation reflected the cancer system and programs in Ontario.  Other cancer organizations have invited larger numbers of people; but their roles are different and involve commenting on issues, whereas our work was engagement on system design, based on patient experiences.   Some hospitals have organized the council to be equal numbers of patient advisors to staff.  Our decision was to have more advisors, fewer staff with the intention to support greater discussion of the advisors….and more listening of the staff.

Organizations should determine the mix of advisors and staff in accordance with the purpose of the Council.

Recruitment and replacement of vacancies

Creating recruitment strategies that will reach a broad audience to engage patients and family members is important.  Initially we recruited by asking staff within programs to identify potential patients who might be interested in joining the council

However, as the Advisory Council has unfolded we have determined the need to revise the recruitment strategy; develop better methodology to engage and recruit widely, through a variety of means: posters, direct connections with groups to ‘market’ the opportunity; media use to put out the call, for example. 

An application form is completed by each person that outlines who they are, what past experiences they might have on a committee or group, why they want to participate, how they want to contribute, and how they envision the role. Following a review of the application, we set up time to speak with each person, telling more about the council and the work, and inviting them to describe how they might contribute; as well as asking questions to make an informed decision about joining the council. 

Last modified: Thu, Dec 27, 2012
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