Jane Welch is one of the School’s first transdisciplinary placement holders. Here, she tells us more about her background, experiences of completing the placement and advice for people thinking about applying.
Can you tell us about your professional background and roles prior to this placement?
I work as a Policy Advisor at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust which provides mental health and learning disabilities services to a population of around 1.7 million people in North East England. Before joining the NHS I worked in health and care roles in local government and in the third sector, and completed my MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy at the LSE.
My research interests are focused on the impact of trauma on health behaviours and physical health outcomes, and the implications of research in this area for public health policy.
What made you decide to complete a TDP placement?
I think bringing people from different disciplines and organisations together to think and work in new ways is key to responding to some of the public mental health challenges we face both nationally and here in the North East. The Transdisciplinary Placements aim to do that, and it’s the only scheme which supports people like me who haven’t got a clinical or public health background to contribute to public mental health research. I think it’s an innovative approach, and I saw the placement as an opportunity to help maximise the policy impact of public health research, develop my research skills and experience, and be part of that shift towards more collaborative working.
What have you enjoyed about your placement?
During my placement I’ve been involved in the WHOLE-SMI project which is an implementation study about holistic health support for people with severe mental illness. I’ve really enjoyed being involved in public and patient involvement activities with people with severe mental illness, and as WHOLE-SMI is a Three Schools project, I’ve been able to see how collaborative research with NIHR centres in other regions works which has been really interesting.
What transferrable skills have you been able to bring from your background discipline to your placement?
The health and care system is very complex, and historically physical and mental health issues have been treated separately by different services even though a person’s mental health can affect their physical health and vice-versa. I’ve worked with the WHOLE-SMI team to map out health policy relevant to the project, regional stakeholders, and the challenges facing policymakers which are likely to impact how local areas develop physical health support for people with severe mental illness.
What skills from your placement have you gained that will be useful in your career?
As well as developing my research skills and experience I’ve built a network in Fuse and the SPHR that I hope will continue to develop after my placement has finished – it would be great to see more collaborative working across mental health research, policy and practice. Doing my placement part-time over 12 weeks has helped me to think differently about mental health policy and practice, especially about how we use research evidence to improve mental health services. I’ve already adopted a more research-informed approach to my work, and hope to use some of the public and patient involvement approaches I’ve learned about in my work too.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering applying for a placement?
Feel the fear and do it anyway! It can feel a bit daunting to step outside of your comfort zone and get involved in something new, but it really is worth it as there are so many opportunities to learn and develop in new directions even during a relatively short placement. The team at Fuse/Newcastle University/SPHR have been very welcoming and supportive which has really helped.