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In this blog interview Dr Stephanie Tierney shares with us which systematic review that she’s led or been involved in she would choose to take with her to read, if she was stranded on a desert island.

Can you introduce yourself and share your role in the MSc EBHC (Systematic Reviews) program?

Hello, I’m Stephanie. I am a health services researcher and departmental lecturer. I am Deputy Director of the MSC in Evidence Based Health Care (EBHC). I lead two modules for this programme: one on Mixed Methods in Health Research and another on Qualitative and Mixed Methods Systematic Reviews. I also teach on the Complex Reviews module and on a module about Qualitative Research Methods.


If you were stranded on a "Desert Island", which systematic review that you have led on or been involved in might you take with you to read?

Supporting social prescribing in primary care by linking people to local assets: A realist review. BMC Medicine. 2000. 18(1):49.

What type of review was it? 

A realist review.

Why did you choose this review? 

This was the first piece of research I conducted using a realist lens. It was a new way for me to think about data. I welcomed this challenge and got a lot of support from Geoff Wong, an expert in realist research. Being on a desert island would give me the chance to reflect on the review and what we presented in the paper. It includes some supplementary files, which would give me extra items to read if stranded for several days!

The review was on the topic of social prescribing. This has become an area of research interest for me; I have received several grants to conduct more studies in this area that stem from this initial review. A lot of these projects have been realist reviews or evaluations. Furthermore, as a result of this review, I set up and continue to run the Oxford Social Prescribing Research Network.

What did your review show?

The review highlighted how success of social prescribing in primary care was shaped by ‘buy-in’ (from patients and health professionals) to the idea of link workers as a viable addition to traditional clinical care. The review emphasised the importance of connections to generate such buy-in, through relationship building/trust between the patient and link worker, link workers and primary care staff, and link workers with the voluntary-community sector. The review proposed that link workers help people to foster social capital (resources accrued through connections with others, such as a sense of belonging, improved self-confidence, access to advice). It also proposed that seeing a link worker could, in some cases, increase patient demand to meet with a GP because they were prompted to take an interest in their health and how to manage their medical conditions.

What did you particularly enjoy about the review?

As mentioned above, I really enjoyed learning a new way of doing a review (through a realist lens) and grappling with concepts associated with this approach to research. I also enjoyed meetings with co-authors, at which we discussed ideas I was developing from the literature.

Reflecting on your review, what one learning would you offer individuals completing a systematic review for the first time?

 Seek support/involvement from people who are experienced in the review approach you plan to use. 

Finally, if you were stranded on a "Desert Island" and about to read your review, what one food or drink treat would you bring with you?

 A diet coke – especially if it was a very warm setting!

You can learn more about the MSc EBHC (Systematic Reviews) programme through the dedicated webpage or by contacting 

Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CEBM as a group.