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. For the first time one of the three awards is sponsored by the journal, ‘Palliative Medicine’.
Dr Lara Pivodic, a postdoctoral fellow of the AXA Research Fund and a postdoctoral researcher at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (End-of-Life Care Research Group) and KU Leuven (Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law), Belgium, talks to us about her research career and her thoughts on winning the award last week in Madrid.
What are your main areas of expertise?
Lara Pivodic: My main areas of expertise are ageing and palliative care. Within these fields, I conduct population-based and cross-national research, as well as theory-based intervention development. I aim to obtain the evidence that policy-makers and healthcare professionals need to ensure access to high-quality palliative care for the growing population of older people. I focus particularly on primary care and care homes – care settings are becoming increasingly important as a result of demographic and epidemiological transitions.
Cross-national research has been one of the overarching themes of my work. I completed my doctoral degree as a Marie Curie PhD scholarship holder in a European Commission-funded Initial Training Network (EURO IMPACT) with a very strong focus on international comparative research. As a postdoctoral researcher, I continued working on EC-funded projects that study palliative care for older people in different countries.
Tell us about your research to improve the care of older people
LP: I am currently completing a Postdoctoral Fellowship of the AXA Research Fund with the End-of-Life Care Research Group at Vrije Universiteit Brussel. I am studying the quality of end-of-life care of people aged 80 years or over and related public policy in Belgium. This includes an epidemiological study of quality indicators of end-of-life care as well as a documentary analysis of policy documents and consultations with stakeholders in relevant public policy areas. I aim to determine which public policy changes are necessary to improve shortcomings in the quality of end-of-life care for older people in Belgium. Furthermore, I am using qualitative methods to study ways of communicating research evidence to policy-makers in the most effective way.
I am also involved as a postdoctoral researcher in several other projects of the Ageing and Palliative Care programme of our research group. I participate in the EU-funded PACE project. Its aim is to map palliative care systems in care homes in Europe, conduct a population-based study of quality of palliative care, and a cluster randomised controlled trial of the PACE Steps to Success palliative care intervention in care homes in six European countries.
Together with Professor Lieve Van den Block, I am participating in the EU-funded Innovative Training Network INDUCT. For this project, we are hosting two international Early Stage Researchers (Rose Miranda and Annelien van Dael) who study palliative care interventions as a health technology for people with dementia.
Finally, I am involved in the development and evaluation of an advance care planning intervention in care homes through a project funded by the Research Foundation Flanders. Our PhD student, Joni Gilissen, has written about the first findings of this study ‘Preconditions for successful advance care planning’ on the EAPC blog.
What does winning the Palliative Medicine Early Researcher Award mean to you?
LP: I am honoured and greatly appreciate the visibility that this award gives to my population-based research on palliative care, and to my achievements as an early career researcher.
But more importantly, besides recognizing me personally as a researcher, this award shines a light on the insights that my colleagues and I have gained from studying end-of-life care in different European countries. My plenary lecture at the EAPC World Congress in Madrid was an exciting opportunity to highlight what we have learned from cross-national comparisons of where people die, transitions between care settings, and provision and quality of palliative care towards the end of life. I believe that palliative care – like many other health domains – can greatly benefit from more, and well-executed, cross-national research.
I hope that this award will help me to continue drawing the attention of our research community to the ways in which we can use cross-national research to help policy-makers improve timely access to high-quality palliative care to all those who need it – in Europe and beyond.
Do you have any hints or tips for other young researchers who may be involved in cross-national research projects?
- Familiarise yourself with all the possibilities and limitations of cross-national research early on
The challenge is not to be satisfied with the most obvious explanations for your findings, but to determine what are the best follow-up questions and hypotheses that will allow you to get closer to understanding the phenomena you are studying.
- Remember that ‘country’ and ‘culture’ are multi-layered concepts rather than simple ‘variables’
Try not to be tempted by simple or stereotypical explanations of your findings (e.g. characteristics sometimes attributed to ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ countries or ‘individualistic’ versus ‘collectivist’ societies). So far, cross-national research has shown that explanations are much more complex than that.
- Speak to people as well as reading policy-documents and scientific literature
You will discover characteristics and peculiarities of policies that cannot be found in publicly available documents. Use opportunities from international research partners to learn how different aspects of palliative care are organised in different countries. While working on my PhD, I exchanged thoughts and ideas about my cross-national research with colleagues from diverse fields such as anthropology, sociology, political sciences, nursing, health sciences, as well as public policy makers.
- Collaborate with researchers internationally
Complete one or several research stays abroad. Find potential hosts for research visits through international projects you or your advisors are involved in, or by contacting people you would like to work with or learn from, even if you don’t know them in person. I have hardly ever encountered an academic who was not interested in collaborating or sharing their knowledge and experience. Use this experience to build networks based on shared research interests.
- Find the right advisors
It will help you greatly to work with an advisor who is familiar with the challenges and possibilities of cross-national research, and who will guide you in making sense of your findings. I am lucky to have had excellent supervisors as part of my PhD programme in Brussels: Prof Lieve Van den Block, Prof Joachim Cohen, Prof Luc Deliens, Prof Koen Pardon, and during my appointment as Visiting Research Associate at Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London: Dr Richard Harding, Prof Irene Higginson, Dr Barbara Gomes.
When embarking on a PhD, find an advisor who encourages and challenges you in equal measure and who helps you in establishing the international contacts that you need to carry out meaningful cross-national research.
Outside of palliative care, what do you like to do to relax and unwind?
LP: In my spare time, I enjoy taking care of my little city garden, going to live concerts at one of the many great venues in Brussels, and relaxing through meditation or by playing the piano. I like meeting my friends, getting lost in the sounds and smells of Brussels’ weekend markets, and discovering new places in the city by bicycle. One of my big passions is travelling, so every now and then I get out of Brussels and discover new places near and far. But most of my travels still lead me ‘home’ to my family in Austria and Bosnia.
You can read more interviews with EAPC Researcher Award winners and other posts relating to the EAPC World Congress on the EAPC Blog.