Contextualising constraints to improve palliative care in acute care: An interview with Associate Professor Melissa Bloomer, winner of the 2020 EAPC Post-doctoral Award


Highlights of every European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC) Congress are the EAPC Researcher Awards. Awarded jointly by the EAPC and the EAPC Research Network (RN), these awards recognise and support the work of scientists and clinicians in the field of  palliative care who make an outstanding contribution to research and clinical practice.

Earlier today (8 October 2020), Melissa Bloomer was awarded the 2020 EAPC Post-doctoral Award. We talk to her about her work as an Associate Professor of Nursing in the School of Nursing and Midwifery and the Centre for Quality and Patient Safety Research at Deakin University, Australia, and the research that has led to her award.

Melissa Bloomer.

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

Melissa Bloomer: My interest in palliative care began 14 years ago when I was working as a critical care nurse. My father sustained a severe traumatic brain injury, spending six months in neurosurgical critical care. During this time, it was overwhelmingly evident that recognition and acceptance of dying in critical care, and the provision of end-of-life care, could be improved. I was very aware how the focus on resuscitation and life-saving in critical care sometimes resulted in prolonged suffering and a traumatic and protracted dying period for the patient and their family. Hence, I decided to pursue a research career in palliative care, focusing on inpatient non-palliative care settings, such as critical care and acute care. 

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

MB: My first experience as part of a research team was in 2008, where I was involved in a multidisciplinary study to explore end-of-life care in the intensive care unit. Since then, I have focused on building a programme of research spanning critical care (neonate, paediatric and adult), acute care and aged rehabilitation settings, areas not routinely staffed by specialist palliative care clinicians. The foci of my research, including my Doctoral studies, have been on investigating recognition of dying, communication and decision-making, family care, bereavement support, preparedness for patient death, and care of vulnerable populations such as those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, the oldest-old and people with dementia. 

As a registered nurse, I have also remained committed to giving back to my profession and using my expertise as a palliative care researcher to improve patient and family care at the end of life, informing nursing curricula, and influencing national education and research agendas via organisations such as the World Federation of Critical Care Nurses, Australian College of Nursing, and the Australian College of Critical Care Nurses.

I have built an international profile as an end-of-life care researcher, and collaborated with colleagues from multiple countries including the UK, Israel, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, China and New Zealand; with these international collaborations being some of the most fruitful in terms of scholarly contribution and outcomes.

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

MB: One of the first challenges in motivating nurses to get involved in research is making it relevant. While for many the relevance of research to nursing and specifically palliative care is obvious, it is through research that we understand the human experience, learn about the effectiveness of treatments or interventions and so on. But for some, research appears to be a concept far removed from caring, which is the essence of nursing. For me, it was when I realised the power of research to improve caring, that it became relevant.

The reality is that every one of us will experience the death of another, perhaps the death of someone in our personal lives, or the death of a patient. Either way, even when the death cannot be prevented, how the death occurs, and how the patient and their family are supported can always be improved. Hence, palliative care research is relevant to all nurses, given death occurs across all practice settings.

Which qualities do you think are the most important in a researcher? And what advice would you give to other young researchers?  

MB: Having a passion for research is really important. Research is often quite challenging, time-consuming and tedious. So it’s really important to not only be good at what you do, but also to be driven by passion and a commitment to improve patient outcomes even if, in the case of palliative care, that means not stopping a death, but instead ensuring high-quality care before and after death.

I also believe that it is essential that researchers place a high priority on ensuring the ethical conduct of research. Given palliative care research may involve participants who are highly vulnerable, ensuring an individual’s rights are protected is essential.

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

MB: Palliative care researchers and clinicians are inextricably linked. They are happily co-dependent if you like. It is working with clinicians that ensures palliative care research is relevant, realistic and will value-add. And it is through research, that we are able to provide the evidence to influence care, measure effectiveness of an intervention, and build our understanding of the human experience of patients, family and clinicians in palliative care.

What does winning the EAPC Postdoctoral Researcher Award mean to you?  

MB: Receiving the EAPC Postdoctoral Researcher award is a huge honour. The award is self-affirming and confirms that my research, which spans the gap between acute care and palliative care, is worthy and important. It’s also wonderful to be recognised internationally in this way and I hope this leads to new connections and research collaborations.

Let’s talk about life outside of palliative care: What’s your favourite novel and/or what three music albums would you take to a desert island?

Geographical Centre of the Simpson Desert… the most terrifying and exhilarating thing I have ever done.

MB: Interesting question. I am not sure I have a favourite novel, but morbidly I do find myself being drawn to any, and all, books about death, dying, views on mortality in the modern age and even serial killers! My bookshelf is full!

As for music, I’ve never been a huge music lover. I don’t listen to music at all in fact. What I do love is time spent in conversation, whether that be about our daily lives, or a philosophical debate about current world issues. And if I am not doing that, I love camping and getting ‘off the beaten track’. I live in Australia and we have some magnificent outback destinations. Just last year I crossed the Simpson Desert in a four-wheel drive with my husband; and just to make it that bit harder, we did it by compass bearing to the geographical centre. It was the most terrifying and exhilarating thing I have ever done. The silence and the stars at night in the desert are so captivating that there is no need or desire for music. 

Registered delegates can view Melissa’s presentation, ‘Contextualising constraints to improve palliative care in acute care’ until 31 January 2021. Go to the congress platform and login. If you need to reactivate this, click here  and type the email address you registered with in lowercase to generate an automated email from the site.

Everyone can view the Abstracts from the 11th EAPC World Research Congress 7 to 9 October 2020, Palliative Medicine, volume: 34, issue 1_suppl; page(s): 1-280.

  • Find more information on Melissa Bloomer at Deakin University ResearchGate and Orcid. Follow Melissa on Twitter @MelissaJBloomer
  • View more posts relating to the 11th EAPC World Research Congress Online #EAPC2020 here including interviews with joint winners of the 2020 EAPC Early Researcher Awards, Dr Lucas Morin and Dr Eva Katharina Schildmann.
This entry was posted in 11th EAPC World Research Congress Online, EAPC Researcher Awards, EAPC World Research Congresses, INTERVIEWS & TRIBUTES, Nursing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.