Building a palliative care research career across borders: An interview with Dr Geana Paula Kurita, winner of the 2019 EAPC Post-doctoral Award


Highlights of every EAPC Congress are the EAPC Researcher Awards, which recognise and support the work of scientists and clinicians who make an outstanding contribution to palliative care research. 

We talk to Dr Geana Paula Kurita PhD, winner of the 2019 EAPC Post-doctoral Award, about her work as senior researcher at Rigshospitalet Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark, and the research that has led to her award.

Dr Geana Paula Kurita delivers her plenary lecture at the 16th EAPC World Congress in Berlin.

Who, or what, inspired you to follow a career in palliative care?

Geana Paula Kurita: As a child, I always knew I would be a researcher and my mother encouraged me to follow my dream. Later, as I observed and treated cancer patients in the Pain League during the nursing undergraduate course, University of Sao Paulo, I realized that I wanted to pursue research in this area.

Three highly respected mentors inspired and helped me to build a research career. The first, Prof. Paulo Antonio de Carvalho Fortes (1951-2015, Faculty of Public Health, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil), assisted me in obtaining my first research scholarship, taught me the elementary steps in research methods, and together we wrote my first article. The second, Prof. Cibele A de Mattos Pimenta (School of Nursing University of Sao Paulo), introduced me to a vast, emerging area – chronic pain, cancer and palliative care – and provided me with the research basis and skills to develop my Master’s and PhD theses, and a post-doc study in chronic pain. The third, Prof. Per Sjøgren (Rigshospitalet, Denmark), kindly accepted me as a research fellow/post-doc in his department and had faith in me so I could develop new skills and embark on a successful research career in palliative care. I am grateful to all of them.

Can you tell us briefly about the research that has led to your winning this award and some of the main findings?

GPK: I have worked mainly in three lines of research: 1) Cognitive dysfunction and other opioid-related adverse effects, 2) epidemiologic profile of chronic pain and opioid use in the Danish population, and 3) research methodology about validation of neuropsychological assessment tools and elaboration of systematic reviews regarding opioid effects and interventional analgesic treatments. The studies are based on cancer and non-cancer pain patients who are treated with opioids and have given us the opportunity to understand the long-term consequences of opioids in two distinct populations. Long-term consequences of opioid treatment have become very relevant, because currently patients with cancer survive or live longer with the disease than previously, and they are often treated with opioids for much longer periods of time. Also, opioid prescriptions to treat chronic non-cancer pain have risen dramatically, but the effects of long-term opioid therapy and the benefits to treat chronic non-cancer pain are unclear.

You come from a nursing background, how can we encourage more nurses to undertake research in palliative care?

GPK: Nurses are at the frontline of patient care. They have a unique and strategic position because of their broad education and 24-hour presence in all health services. A well-educated nurse has a panoramic viewpoint about health (disease prevention, disease process; eg falling ill and living with the disease, treatment and rehabilitation) – a plus not only in clinical settings but also in research. Our profession has developed widely, including research. Nurses can develop research roles in leadership, management, data collection and student tutoring, among others. I believe that current changes in the undergraduate nursing curriculum to include palliative care and educational research activities supported by health professional associations in many countries) are helping to better prepare professionals and awakening an interest in palliative care research.

We are becoming more aware of the gaps in clinical practice and more frequently look for new ideas and strategies to enhance health care. The key to encouraging nurses to undertake research in palliative care is to promote the idea that evidence-based care is the bridge between research and practice, aiming to find out what is the best for the patient.

Nurses have the opportunity and skills to explore many research areas, including symptom control, patient and family education, service management, healthcare models and health policies. Equally, they have much to offer to multidisciplinary research collaboration that embraces comprehensive and patient-centred care, and their participation should be encouraged.

Nurses should see research as a career option and be aware that they can integrate both clinical care and research into a more challenging and satisfying profession.

Dr Geana Paula Kurita receives her award from Prof Sheila Payne (left) and Prof Lieve Van den Block. (Photographs by Stefan Zeitz).

As Vice-chair of the EAPC Research Network (EAPC RN), how do you think the RN can help to foster young researchers? And where would you like the RN to be in 20 years’ time?

GPK: The EAPC RN is committed to helping junior/young researchers to create a network, where they can learn, share experiences, develop skills, and collaborate in palliative care research. Our Research Network Junior Forum (JF), provides a platform for education, communication and collaboration among junior/young researchers. We are currently restructuring the JF by creating more interactive activities at conferences and a dedicated JF space on the EAPC RN website to help young researchers build networks with each other and more established researchers. Hopefully, the RN will become a stronger, more inclusive, group of researchers who are developing research projects around the world and helping to improve palliative care research. 

How do you see your role (and palliative care researchers in general) linked to that of clinicians? 

GPK: Clinicians and researchers are essential components to providing optimal care and evidence-based care, the bridge between research and practice. Therefore, we are collaborators/partners with a higher margin of success if we work closely together. Good collaboration/integration allows exchange of experiences, which increases knowledge on both sides.

How do you see your career opportunities in palliative care in your country?

GPK: Despite the economic and cultural differences between Brazil and Denmark, I think that research opportunities in the public and private sectors exist in both countries but may be more limited in Brazil. Working with other researchers, we have developed a research plan that aims to provide more information regarding the consequences of long-term opioid treatment and developing more precise and targeted therapies for patients with cancer and chronic non-cancer pain. This plan includes analysis of various health-related outcomes, prevalence of opioid addiction and its risk factors including genetic variation, and immunologic and endocrine consequences. I have a lot to work on, and hopefully I can obtain a professorship in the future.

Your personal journey to build your research career in palliative care led you from Brazil to Europe. Tell us about the transition, and any tips for other young researchers who are coming to Europe. 

GPK: My transition to Denmark was very positive. From a professional point of view, colleagues welcomed me and it has been fantastic to be in an environment that provides access to national databases and heavy resource investment to make research feasible. From a personal point of view, there are several differences between Brazil and Denmark besides the weather. A new culture, a new language, new currency, and no family or friends may be very challenging. When moving to a different environment, we should consider the behaviour and culture of the local society and respect and learn how to adapt to it. It is important to observe and understand how the society works to make your life easier in and outside of work.

Read about the country you are moving to and sign up for group activities, eg language course, fitness, etc. This will help you to meet people with similar interests and situations and to develop new friendships. Learning the local language makes it easierto integrate. Many courses also focus on national socio-cultural aspects, which help you to understand your new country.

Outside of palliative care, what do you enjoy doing to relax?

GPK: I have a passion for travelling and watching films. I also like to exercise, which facilitates a good night’s sleep and re-energises me for the next day.


Editor’s note: This post is among the Top Ten most-viewed posts for the first half of  2019.

Look out for more interviews on the EAPC blog with Dr Maria Heckel, winner of the 2019 EAPC Palliative Medicine Early Researcher Award, and Dr Mark Taubert, winner of the EAPC Clinical Impact Award. 

This entry was posted in 16th EAPC World Congress Berlin, 2019 most-viewed, EAPC Researcher Awards, Nursing, RESEARCH and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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