Sarah Beardon, a PhD student at UCL, talks to us about working in public health research.
What are your main research interests?
I am interested in the links between law and health. The conditions we refer to as ‘social determinants of health’ very often have a legal element, such as financial problems, homelessness, poor living and working conditions. We can use the law to resolve these situations and ultimately improve public health.
Can you tell me about your work with the NIHR School for Public Health Research?
I am currently on an SPHR funded PhD studentship “Implementation of Health-Justice Partnerships”. My research looks at how to deliver legal advice in healthcare settings to support patients with social welfare issues. Service partnerships are not easy to form and sustain, particularly between such different sectors. But getting this right can achieve real benefits for the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable patients. I am investigating issues that affect the functioning and sustainability of these partnerships so that they have the best chances of succeeding. To do this I am working with services across the country who are contributing their valuable experience to the study.
What impact will your research have?
We have all seen the impact of Covid-19 on the livelihoods and welfare of the population. Health services across the country will be faced with the fallout of the economic situation, particularly in relation to mental health. Forming a partnership with a welfare rights service can help respond to patients’ needs and address the root causes of illness that lie in social and economic conditions. This not only takes the pressure off healthcare professionals, but means that patients will access the assistance they need to help them through crisis, improve their circumstances and ultimately support their health. My study will help to inform how this can be done in practice.
What made you decide to have a career in public health research?
I was attracted by the idea of contributing to positive change, particularly in relation to inequalities and injustices. There is so much interesting work in public health, I could take it in any almost direction and still find something I’d enjoy. I never expected to cross over with law, but that just makes it doubly interesting (and doubly challenging!).
What has been the highlight of your research career?
I really enjoyed my time working at the UCL Faculty of Laws, my first introduction to health-justice studies. I learnt so much there that was totally new to me and made me look at health in a different way. The team was great at helping me adapt to the new subject and environment!
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in public health research?
Don’t be afraid to branch out, be open to working across subjects and with new research methods – they will all be useful tools in your skills box!