SPHR - ARC North Thames PhD student
Health Inequalities theme, Efficient and equitable health systems theme
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM)
What has been your career journey so far?
I first became interested in researching digital healthcare whilst interning at The Population Council in 2013. After completing my BA in Anthropology and Archaeology at Oxford University, I did an MSc in Digital Anthropology at UCL. In 2019-2020 I undertook an MSc in Public Health at LSHTM, funded by The Wellcome Trust. Throughout these degrees my focus has been on researching digital healthcare, through a mixture of literature based and ethnographic projects. In between degrees I have spent time volunteering and working across South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, which has helped to fuel my interest in the potential for digital healthcare for vulnerable populations.
Why did you choose to do a PhD in public health research?
I decided to pursue a PhD in public health as I had many questions remaining around the use of digital healthcare, which I wanted to answer through a longer piece of in-depth research. I see digital healthcare as a potentially equalising tool of healthcare but recognise the risk of inequities arising and being replicated through its use. I hope to be part of the research community looking into this and ensuring policy and service design are appropriate.
What is your research focused on?
My research will focus on how vulnerable and marginalised populations access to and use of healthcare services are impacted by a switch to digital healthcare in the NHS.
Why is it important?
This research is being carried out with the intention of informing public policy and service design. Ensuring that vulnerable populations are not excluded from healthcare services by a move to digital engagements is of paramount importance, especially in light of the NHS long term plan which aims to have a digital option for all patients by 2029, thus, dramatically shifting the norm of face-to-face healthcare encounters. We all benefit from living in a fairer, and more equal society, a message that’s been bought home by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the disproportionate effect on BAME communities and low socioeconomic groups. If some of us lose, we all lose. More inclusive healthcare services are not only advantageous for the populations they are designed for but become easier to use for all users. A system which lets down its most vulnerable populations is not working- and those who are systematically excluded from healthcare services must be taken into account as we face a dramatic shift from face-to-face to digital healthcare encounters. This research will contribute to an understanding of how vulnerable and marginalised populations access and use digital healthcare, or healthcare in the age of digital healthcare. The UK has persistent and ingrained healthcare inequalities which risk being further entrenched by a shift to unequitable digital healthcare practices. Alternatively, digital healthcare may offer up possibilities of reaching the most vulnerable in ways not done before.
What do you like about being part of a NIHR SPHR and ARC collaboration?
It’s great being part of a collaboration like this as it gives me scope for being involved with different networks and training opportunities. I’ve already met many great Early Career Researchers, and more senior academics working in my field- all whilst doing a PhD from home in a pandemic! I feel very well supported by NIHR, and I am starting to realise how many great opportunities for collaboration and training will be made available to me over the course of my PhD.
What skills are hoping to learn as part of your PhD?
I am hoping to become an independent researcher in my own right during the course of my PhD. I anticipate learning many skills around designing and carrying out an in-depth qualitative research project. I also hope to learn how to present my research findings to different audiences, ranging from open public engagements, through to academic journals. PPI will be a crucial aspect of my PhD research as I am looking at vulnerable groups- and I hope to receive further training from NIHR and LSHTM on how to do this effectively.
What do you hope to do after completing your PhD?
5 months into it I am not entirely sure! I am staying open to the option of doing a post-doc, but also of moving into industry or governmental roles. Ultimately, I hope that I will be doing research either in the UK or in LMICs which will help to design and implement digital healthcare solutions for vulnerable populations.