Today in Copenhagen at the 14th EAPC World Congress, Dr Kathleen McLoughlin received the 2015 European Association for Palliative Care Early Researcher Award.
Dr Kathleen McLoughlin, All Ireland Institute of Hospice and Palliative Care/Irish Cancer Society Research Fellow, Department of Psychology, Maynooth University, Compassionate Communities Project Co-ordinator, Milford Care Centre, Ireland, reflects on her research career in Palliative and End of Life Care.
It all began back in 2001, when each Health Board area was required to conduct a palliative care needs assessment. I was working as Researcher for Mental Health at the time, focused on one day entering Clinical Psychology Training. I was asked to assist with the local needs assessment and I vividly recall sitting googling definitions of ‘palliative care’. Little did I know that ‘palliative care’ would become a daily feature of my search histories 14 years later!
During the needs assessment I met people receiving palliative care services, who wished that they had been referred and/or accepted referral much earlier. They clearly appreciated the health promoting benefits of engagement. I also met people who described how they asked their homecare nurse to park their car around the corner, highlighting the stigma associated with receiving palliative care. Others described how it wasn’t palliative care per se that evoked fear, but what it represented for them. As Davis (1995) describes, this is a different type of referral “the individual’s passage through one set of hopes and expectations to another.”
The concepts of fear, stigma and attitude are of obvious relevance to the field of psychology and were issues I was familiar with in mental health. I recognised quite quickly that this was a relatively new area for research in palliative care and whilst theoretical solutions had been proposed by Professor Kellehear in his book ‘Health Promoting Palliative Care’ (1999), we were not familiar with Allan’s work when we made the recommendation that a health promoting approach to palliative care should be adopted.
It was this recommendation that fuelled my application for funding to the Irish Hospice Foundation and the Health Research Board to conduct a PhD at Maynooth University under the supervision of Dr Sinead McGilloway. The multi-phase mixed method study commenced formally in 2006, running for six years on a part-time basis. The findings of which:
- Contribute to the understanding of the ethical complexities associated with this work.
- Include the development of a new tool to assess healthcare professionals’ attitudes toward palliative care (HPAQ).
- Offer a comprehensive 8-variable framework to describe healthcare professional attitudes toward palliative care.
- Add two new education programmes and associated methods of evaluation to enable healthcare professionals and people living with cancer, to critically reflect on their attitude toward palliative care.
- Demonstrate how repertory grid technique could serve as a useful research methodology/clinical technique for use in palliative care.
Most importantly, however, the research served as a catalyst for the development of Health Promoting Palliative Care and the first demonstration model for Compassionate Communities on the island of Ireland, developed in association with my colleagues at Milford Care Centre. To my surprise, I was recently named 2014 Commercial Media Group Irish Healthcare Person of the Year for my work in the field of Palliative and End of Life Care. I also now hold the 2014 All Ireland Institute of Hospice and Palliative Care/Irish Cancer Society Research Fellowship to evaluate the effectiveness of the Good Neighbour Partnership, a volunteer-led model for social and practical support for people living at home, with advanced illness.
It has been a pleasure to attend the 14th World Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care, to collect the Early Researcher Award and share my current and future research plans with those who attended today. I hope that this will be a catalyst for further collaboration and research, particularly in the field of Public Health and Palliative Care.
Googling palliative care might just have been one of the best things I ever did!
McLoughlin, K. (2012). Identifying and changing attitudes toward palliative care: an exploratory study. PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
McLoughlin, K. and McGilloway, S. (2012). Unsettling assumptions around death, dying and palliative care. Chapter in Fook, J. and Gardener, F. Using critical reflection: Scientific applications in health and social care settings.
McLoughlin, K. (2010). Dying to talk: Unsettling assumptions toward research with patients at the end of life. Palliative and Supportive Care, 8 (3) p 371-375.
More about the EAPC Early Researcher Award
The Early Researcher Award is presented annually by the EAPC and is designed to recognise the work of young (novice) scientists and clinicians in the field of palliative care who have recently made, or are currently making, an outstanding contribution to research. It aims to highlight their personal career development and their potential for the future.
We shall be publishing more posts from this year’s Early Researcher Award prizewinners on the EAPC Blog – you can also view posts from former prizewinners here.
Look out for announcements about the 2016 Early Researcher Award in the autumn.