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Researcher Spotlight: Patricia Strachan

Feb 26, 2021
By Guylaine Spencer

Patricia Strachan

If there are not enough resources like ventilators for COVID-19 patients, what do health care providers do? How do they decide who gets one and who doesn’t, and how do they communicate those decisions to patients, loved ones and the public in general? This heart-breaking question is addressed in a recently completed research project, Triaging Critical Care During Covid-19: Global Preparedness, Socio-Cultural Considerations, and Communication.  

Dr. Patricia Strachan, associate professor of nursing, is one of the researchers involved in this global study. It was funded by the COVID-19 Global Research Roadmap (World Health Organization Social Sciences working group) and Western University (Office of the Vice-President and Faculty of Health Sciences). The report was just released and is available online

The importance of communication in end-of-life care is a theme that has run through Strachan’s research for several years. Her first published studies began with her PhD which she completed in 2004. She went on to do a post-doctoral research fellowship with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario and has been engaged in numerous research projects ever since.  

“The common thread of all my research is communication,” says Strachan. Her early studies were situated in the context of patients living with advanced heart failure. “Before we ever thought that heart failure patients could get palliative care, I was interested in how we talk to them about end-of-life care.”  

Out of that curiosity came one of Strachan’s most significant research projects. “It began as a small project,” she says, “but it has had a lasting impact, and has been an important source of my ongoing learning. It was a project to integrate the care of patients with advanced end-stage heart failure with palliative care. At the time I had been involved in a provincial task force with Heart and Stroke. Back then, palliative care practitioners and heart failure clinicians were just starting to work together. Previously they had been in two camps. It was a like a Tower of Babel. The language and focus of practice of one was foreign to the other, and that was impacting patient care. The nurses and physicians wanted a resource they could pull out of their pockets that would help them to know what is important to discuss. We developed a resource that has lived on and is available online at the Canadian Virtual Hospice. “It has been frequently accessed and has been integrated into palliative approach to care and education. We are continuing to develop and evaluate it.”  

It wasn’t long before Strachan realized that these communication issues were transferable to other advanced illnesses as well. “I’ve learned a lot along the way. What I have now come to understand is that I think there’s a need to be developing communication skills of clinicians. Many advancements we have made in health care are technical interventions. But communication within health teams or to patients and families is often key to the effectiveness of these interventions,” says Strachan. (See article, available online at Applied Nursing Research

After years of experience, Strachan still loves research for “the opportunity to be curious and to try and understand things and make a difference to care. I like the complex and ‘messy’ work of qualitative inquiry,” she says.  

For graduate students who may be considering the career of a nurse scientist, she offers this advice: “Ask yourself … what are the questions that need to be answered in order to advance nursing knowledge and care? We’ve been encouraged to adopt an interdisciplinary approach, but I do think that we need to critically reflect on the impact of interdisciplinary research on nursing knowledge and advancement. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing it. There are benefits from it. But one thing I see happening is that very often nursing becomes hidden in some interdisciplinary research leaving the value of nursing unrecognized,” she says.

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