Healthcare research by TWU nursing professor seeks to improve medical experience of non-English speaking patients

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research has awarded TWU nursing professor, Sheryl Reimer Kirkham’s upcoming research project approximately $170,000 of funding per year. The project, "Hospitalization and Help-Seeking Experiences of Diverse Ethnocultural Groups, Phase II" is a continuation of a larger project started in 1999. It will examine various patients’ experiences as they enter the health system, undergo hospitalization, and are discharged, and will have a special focus on non-English speaking patients.

“I’m passionate about making health care accessible and equitable for everybody, especially for vulnerable populations,” says Kirkham. As co-principal investor for the project, she will be able to continue researching precisely that for the next three years.

“What we found is that there is a group of people who tend to fall through the cracks,” explains Reimer Kirkham. “People with obvious physical or social needs have assistance when they go home. But there’s a whole group of people who are discharged from hospitals much sooner than they used to be, and they often get into destructive situations because they just don’t have the support, or the knowledge to pick up the phone and call the physician – and the doctor usually speaks English.”

Two years ago, Reimer Kirkham received the Governor General’s gold medal for her PhD dissertation titled “Making Sense of Difference: The Social Organization of Intergroup Health Care Provision.” For her current project, launched in August, she joins three other investigators from UBC, including principal investigator Dr. Joan Anderson, and four health professionals from clinical agencies. “It is a wonderful opportunity and privilege to be connected with other universities,” she says.

The effectiveness of this hybrid team stems not only from the relationships between local campuses, but in the inclusion of health care professionals. “It’s also a nice mix of people from both practice settings and university settings. We’re able to balance strong theoretical and research skills with the practical, relevant findings gathered by people directly in health care.”

Reimer Kirkham notes that a great deal of research from an academic perspective ends up in various journals and committees, but that this particular consortium is “highly committed to influencing health care policy in the very immediate sense.”

The researchers will attend discharge planning meetings and observe hundreds of interactions between health professionals and patients. Interviews will be conducted with 200 health professionals in the hospital, 90 patients and their families, and 40 health care providers in the community. “We’ll be right there in the hospital working with the care planners and nurses and telling them what we’re seeing in the community,” says Reimer Kirkham.

Reimer Kirkham will continue to divide her time between researching and teaching. “The whole area of culture and health is something that I teach in the Masters in Administrative Leadership program,” she says, “so there’s a real translation of findings put right into education.” Her students are professionals employed across a broad spectrum of practice settings, and Reimer Kirkham is pleased to share her research with those who can employ her findings in their workplaces.

Pinpointing the essence of her work, Reimer Kirkham poses the question and the answer that leads both aspects of her career: “Who are the weak amongst us and how do we care for them? It’s all about identifying those in need and learning how to best advocate for them.”

Last Updated: 2015-07-13
Author: Keela Keeping