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Medical Humanities Funding Awards

25 May 2020

In April, the Medical Humanities Strand, housed at the Centre for Health Humanities and Science and funded by Wellcome Trust ISSF-3 (administered by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute), awarded funding for six new research projects in the Medical Humanites. The aim of the funding is to support the development of research ideas into mature proposals suitable for large external bids.

Funded projects: 

1) Can the past inform the present? Exploring attitudes and approaches to the management of common infections – Dr Barbara Caddick 

This research project is driven by historical research. Members of the interdisciplinary team are based in the Centre for Academic Primary Care (CAPC). The Centre has strong and well-established links with healthcare professionals, including the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group and NIHR Applied Research Collaboration West. The project seeks better to understand the extent to which the historical management of common infections informs and explains current practice. Wholesale antibiotic prescription, since Alexander Fleming’s 1928 discovery of penicillin, which entered popular consumption in the 1940s, has left a legacy on patient expectation in which an antibiotic prescription is viewed as the optimal outcome of a visit to the GP, whether the medication is required or not. Hence reducing the prescription of antibiotics in primary care is a key part of the current antimicrobial drug resistance agenda. To understand how healthcare professionals managed and treated common infections and patient experience, the project will carry out a scoping review of archival and museum collections as well as historical and primary care literature. With relevant professional stakeholders and community groups, the cluster will explore the experience of the pre- and early antibiotic era in primary care and develop a larger programme of work. The proposed project will develop a novel interdisciplinary methodology for data collection in order to stimulate discussion of past infection management, and to prompt conversations about how infections are managed today. 


2) Grief and Baby Loss – Dr Lesel Dawson 

This project builds on Good Grief, Bristol, a festival that will take place in late 2020 with the support of a Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Grant. The project sees lead applicant, Lesel Dawson, work with two co-applicants, Cleo Hanaway-Oakley and Lucy Selman, to open up interdisciplinary conversations about baby loss, forming the foundations for research that increases public understanding about the challenges faced by bereaved parents and helping to ensure that they receive appropriate support. The grant will be used to fund a series of workshops with the aim of developing a larger research bid. The workshops will focus on different perspectives of baby loss and include literary scholars, historians, psychologists, parents, bereavement counsellors and bereavement midwives. Each workshop will have a different focus but collaborators will be invited to all three workshops in order to ensure that there is cross-fertilisation across disciplines and organisations and that the perspectives and methodologies of each are integrated and shared. Ultimately, the 

aim is to create a research proposal on baby loss that would allow the arts and sciences to collaborate in new ways. Strong external links will help to ensure wide and diverse dissemination of findings and pathways to impact beyond academia.


3) Physical Cultures – Professor Martin Hurcombe 

Physical Cultures is a research cluster comprising academics from disciplines including the Arts and Humanities, Population Health, Behavioural Medicine, Sociology, Social Policy and Physical Activity. Led by a team based at the University of Bristol but encompassing collaborators (academic and otherwise) from Bristol and beyond, it is committed to understanding the benefits of physical activity, exercise and sport for a twenty-first-century population and the factors that inhibit the adoption of physically active lifestyles. To this end, it fuses approaches and methodologies grounded in the study of cultures (including issues of age, class, gender, ethnicity, religion and sexuality and the ways in which these inform attitudes towards physical activity) with those grounded in the health sciences and social sciences, seeking to establish a methodology that draws upon and reflects this rich interdisciplinary research area. Through this approach, the cluster aims better to understand and reveal how existing individual and societal attitudes are grounded in historical and discursive practices. It does so in order to challenge existing narratives and prejudices that may inhibit the uptake of physical activity and which may, therefore, be contributing to a raft of current health-related challenges faced by societies (type-2 diabetes, vitamin D deficiency, heart disease, mental illness, and so on). From this, and in close partnership with a range of practitioners, the cluster seeks to develop practical measures for promoting positive behaviour change.


4) To See Ourselves: Insights into the pleasures and predicaments of contemporary clinical practice through artistic works of first-year medical students – Dr Catherine Lamont Robinson and Professor Trevor Thompson 

This research project challenges the assumption that teaching is embodied in ‘a teacher’ and learning is embodied in ‘a learner’ (Ashwin, 2012), acknowledging the contribution of students’ ‘fresh eyes and ears’ within Primary Care clinical attachments. The core research question interrogates how students’ creative reflections on their encounters in healthcare contexts may positively enhance the practices of clinicians, peers, and patients’ experiences of consultations. Patient participation as co-researchers is fundamental to the triangulation of perspectives. Trevor Thompson, Catherine Lamont-Robinson and Danny Van de Klee, who developed the University of Bristol have sought funding to radically update and extend this medical arts archive in order to bring it into line with the Medical School’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and peer learning. 

This pilot will build on the Medical School’s long-established first-year clinical placement scheme and the students’ reflective responses, whilst also developing and embedding follow-on models of creative engagement within the healthcare community. It will initiate qualitative focus groups/workshops with clinicians, students and patients. This triangulation process will ultimately lead to the development of new resources from multiple perspectives initially hosted on the outofourheads website as a discrete curation informed by internal (CHHS) and external humanities academics. The research aims to promote a culture of direct engagement with the arts in exchanging observations, socio-cultural insights and in establishing habitual, shared exchanges across student, clinician and patient communications.


5) Becoming Elizabeth Blackwell – Professor Mary Luckhurst 

This project will develop a playscript, staged reading and a creative methodology about the life of Bristol-born Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to qualify as a doctor in the USA. Coreen McGuire will research aspects of Blackwell’s past, relevant institutional histories connected with the places in which Blackwell trained, and the relevant social histories and history of medicine in the era of Blackwell’s life, including the history of her work with the nascent abolitionist movements in America. The project will be in dialogue with University of Bristol medical and arts communities and schools. The project-partner is the Bristol Old Vic, which champions disability and women in science. The stories of resilient, pioneering women provide important and aspirational models to all women. These stories function as powerful educational tools for current medical students and established medics. This project also analyses the collaborative process of embodying a real person on stage. In theatre studies there is little theorisation of embodiment because acting has been assumed to privilege the emotions. In the playing of real people, however, where actors often use an image of the body, a quite different methodological starting point is in evidence and the project will map and analyse this process in an interdisciplinary team. The project has three phases: the first is to collect data on Blackwell’s life in England and the USA where she qualified in medicine. The second is a workshop with director Julia Pascal and Bristol medical students and staff, theatre and humanities students, as well as Bristol secondary school children to focus on those narratives and life moments that might be particularly resonant with audiences now. The third phase is creating the script and undertaking embodied work in development workshops in the Theatre Department and at the Bristol Old Vic. There will be a staged reading/performance in a studio space and at the Wellcome Centre’s Hub or other medical location in London. The script and essay will be jointly authored by Mary Luckhurst and Julia Pascal.


6) Human flourishing through creative enquiry in medical education – Dr Louise Younie and Dr John Lee 

This work spans two medical schools (University of Bristol and Queen Mary University London), and a variety of interdisciplinary fields (medical education, medical humanities, clinical practice, philosophy, arts-based practice, arts for health, patient lived experience). It works across practitioners, students, researchers and artists, some of whom hold a liminal space working across these divisions (e.g. lead applicant Louise Younie works across clinical practice, medical education, and has recent lived experience of cancer to draw upon). The project acknowledges a concerning rise in stress, anxiety and depression amongst medical students, not least because of the increasing recognition that this poses a risk to future 

patient care and patient safety. Although medical student and doctor wellbeing is receiving increasing attention, little focus has been placed on the arts or on creative enquiry despite the wealth of data from patient-focussed studies that consider the arts for health and wellbeing. Preliminary data suggests that students engaging in facilitated small group creative enquiry workshops engage in ‘vulnerable reflection’, shared meaning-making, exploration of lived experience and that challenges of being a medical student. The notion of flourishing encompasses helping students to embrace rather than retreat from their work. The proposed pilot research of participatory design will involve emerging key themes and lines of enquiry through creative workshops, focus group exploration, an online questionnaire, and a preliminary paper in order to put creative enquiry and human flourishing on the map of medical education.

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