In 2012 Get A-Head provided a grant to Camilla Dawson to fund her tuition fees for a clinical doctorate at the University of Southampton.
Camilla completed her research whilst also working as clinical lead for speech and language therapy at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.
Her research doctorate focused on ‘intensive versus non-intensive speech and language therapy for dysphagia rehabilitation post surgical reconstruction for oral and oropharyngeal head and neck cancer’.
Following her graduation Camilla told us about the outcomes of the research:
The study was the first of its kind to gather information from individuals about how they felt after surgery, what they needed from the clinical team, and the impact of the swallow therapy they received. This information was collected from interviews with patients whilst they were on the inpatient ward, and it was analysed to develop ideas about what clinical care may need to involve to achieve best possible outcomes for people with head and neck cancer.
The findings from the research have been used in two ways; firstly to provide practical support to people undergoing head and neck cancer surgery and secondly to develop information for clinicians who work in this field. The findings are being developed to help people to understand what they may expect after surgery, specifically how others have experienced, coped with and managed the physical and emotional impact of the operation. Concepts about how clinicians can communicate and provide information in the most effective ways have also been identified. The findings have been presented at national and international conferences and we hope to build on the study by collaborating with other centres in the UK that provide head and neck cancer surgery and swallow therapy.
Following this doctoral research, I have completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. This international collaboration enabled me to disseminate the findings of the study to cancer centres across British Columbia, and to provide training and mentorship to Speech and Language Therapists working with people with head and neck cancer.
In a day to day capacity, the research findings have already had an impact on clinical interventions, specifically the way we prepare people for their surgery, and latterly their post-operative care. With better understanding of the needs of the individual, we are able to support people with the physical, emotional and psychosocial effects of head and neck surgery. People have told us that this approach to clinical care has helped them feel normal again, listened to, and connected to the clinical team.
The support from Get A-Head enabled us to gather vital information to develop evidence about what people with head and neck cancer need from the clinical team after surgery. The perspective of the individual with head and neck cancer has been central to this study and will continue to focus the clinical application of this research.