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Academic Clinical Fellow in Palliative Medicine, Dr Joe Sawyer, reflects on his experience of our Advanced Qualitative Research Methods module.

Academic Clinical Fellow in Palliative Medicine
Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Department
Division of Psychiatry
University College London (UCL

I enrolled on the Advanced Qualitative Research Methods module as an Academic Clinical Fellow in Palliative Medicine. My research focuses on new public health approaches to palliative care and specifically how communities help to provide health and social care, particularly at the end of life.

Contemporary challenges to providing palliative care include social isolation, the professionalisation of care, inequity of access and a changing demographic of people with increasing levels of multi-morbidity and frailty. ‘Compassionate communities’ are based on a public health approach to health promotion and represent a new approach to supporting people faced by these issues. They are examples of how naturally occurring supportive networks can be combined with the wealth of community resource found in neighbourhoods, workplaces and other institutions in order to reduce social isolation and improve access to care. Interest is developing as to how ‘Compassionate communities’ may support individuals, friends and families and the community at large in facing the issues surrounding the dying process, death and bereavement.

My interests lead me to develop a funding application to look at how this approach may work for people affected by dementia. My proposal employed a range of methods including, network analysis, interviews and an ethnography. In order to get a firm grounding in different qualitative methods and how they might apply to my research question I was keen to take a course in advanced qualitative methodology.

The course exceeded all my expectations. I was privileged to work with the course organisers who were engaging and dynamic. The sessions fostered a culture that enabled students to challenge the ideas presented and develop their own thinking. A careful blend of activities mixed with taught sessions would stimulate debate and led me to a new way approaching qualitative methodology. The student body also provided a great resource of knowledge and ideas and the social gatherings and informal conversation was equally stimulating. Guest speakers were all very experienced and approachable, meaning that there was scope to direct questioning relating to my personal interests which was enormously helpful. The course also included a session on grant writing when using qualitative methodology. This was vital to me and taught me the language needed to ‘sell’ my idea to relevant funders.

Since completing the course I have successfully been awarded a Clinicians Fellowship from the Alzheimer’s society. This will fund me for 3 years to research the role of ‘Compassionate Communities’ for people affected by dementia. I honestly believe this would not have been possible without the experience and knowledge that this course has afforded me. I look forward to maintaining the contacts I made at Oxford with the potential for future collaborations.