European Association for Palliative Care 2016 Researcher Awards – What I learned from my research in physiology and neuroscience for my career in palliative care?


Highlights of every EAPC Congress are the EAPC Researcher Awards, which recognize and support the work of scientists and clinicians who make an outstanding contribution to palliative care research. Yesterday (June 10) in Dublin, awards were made to Dr Bridget Candy, Dr Kirsten Wentlandt and Dr Martin Loucka. 

Today, Dr Kirsten Wentlandt, Staff Physician and Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Canada, reflects on her research career and winning the Clinical Impact Research Award.

In February, I found out I was to receive one of the European Association for Palliative Care Early Researcher Awards. I was very honoured to be considered worthy of such an award, but to say I was surprised by their choice in the title for my lecture would be an understatement. The scientific committee requested a lecture on what I had learned in my PhD, specifically my research in physiology and neurosciences that had prepared me for my career in palliative care. This was a surprise, as I had never considered how my four years locked away in a forgotten hallway of the hospital had taught me so much of what I intuitively do now.

Dr Kersten Wentlandt receives the Clinical Impact Researcher Award from Prof Stein Kaasa (Chair of EAPC Research Network) at the 9th EAPC World Research Congress in Dublin

Dr Kersten Wentlandt receives the Clinical Impact Research Award from Prof Stein Kaasa (Chair of EAPC Research Network) at the 9th EAPC World Research Congress in Dublin

The time spent on my PhD was focused on the role of gap junctions in propagating seizure activity in mice. It was a blur of tweaking electrophysiological rigs, making gels for western blots, and sitting in the dark with a high-powered microscope. I was a student, and for this time, mice and scientists were my counterparts. On reflection, I realise that doing basic science research, or working at the bench side taught me a lot about working at the bedside.

Nowadays, my life is a blur of patient care, organising lectures, running to meetings and trying to get my children to school on time. I am now a staff physician providing care to patients, an Assistant Professor with the University of Toronto and hold several administrative roles focused on improving palliative care services in local and provincial arenas. Patients, clinicians, students, administrators, and my family are my now my counterparts. The only obvious similarity to my student life – I still hang out with crazy scientists.

My research now focuses on barriers and improving access to palliative care, working to define quality and understand patient satisfaction. I am trying to work outside of the box; attempting to look at inequities and alternative models of care to support the provision of care to the non-cancer palliative population. This work is far removed from brain slices, evoked potentials, pluripotent stem cells and protein bands.

Most colleagues believe I wasted a lot of time, having spent years working on a PhD in neurosciences and then having to cross the divide between basic and clinical sciences, both in research and practice. It is easy to focus on the differences, but ultimately learning the nature of people, how to ask questions and seek answers and adjusting to life’s successes and failures are lessons well-learned in any field. If you came to my lecture, you may have learned how gap junctions, western blots, crazy scientists, mice and microscopes have taught me how to navigate the healthcare system, clinical research, relationships with colleagues and peers, medications and innovative solutions for patients.

It is a huge honour to have received one of the EAPC Early Research Awards in recognition of the work I have been part of. I am incredibly grateful to all of those who have helped me along my journey, but need to highlight the contribution to my career and support of two incredible individuals: Dr Peter Carlen and Dr Camilla Zimmermann (aka crazy scientists).

Dr Kirsten Wentlandt email

Read Dr Martin Loucka’s post, and posts from previous winners of this award, on the EAPC Blog. Look out next week for a post from Dr Bridget Candy.

Abstracts for 9th EAPC World Research Congress available online . . .
Palliative Medicine is delighted to publish the abstracts for 9th World Research Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC). Download them from the June 2016 issue here.

Online submissions for 2017 EAPC Researcher Awards now open
Find out more on the website of EAPC 2017 – 15th World Congress

This entry was posted in EAPC Researcher Awards, EAPC World Congresses, EAPC World Research Congresses, RESEARCH and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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