The Wellcome Trust Investigator Award, ‘Surgery & Emotion’, has secured almost £20,000 of further funding

  • Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The project, ‘Surgery & Emotion’, based in the Department of Humanities, has received a further £19,650 Research Enrichment award from the Wellcome Trust to fund public engagement, following the project’s initial success of a £570,000 grant in 2015.

Image - The Wellcome Trust Investigator Award, ‘Surgery & Emotion’, has secured almost £20,000 of further funding

The project’s research has already influenced policy and has been cited in the Royal College of Surgeons’ (RCS) ‘Commission on the Future of Surgery’ report. Last year ‘Surgery & Emotion’ also teamed up with the RCS to deliver a workshop, ‘Operating with Feeling’, which brought together surgeons, other healthcare practitioners, academics, and policymakers.

By conducting interviews with currently practising and recently retired surgeons, the project’s Research Fellow, Dr Agnes Arnold-Forster, has shown that while practitioners are deeply affected by their work, they often feel that they can’t talk about their emotions because of the culture of the profession and the intense hospital environment. There is also limited formal and informal emotional support in place for surgeons.

The introduction of the European Working Time Directive has altered the working cultures and practices of surgeons, replacing the camaraderie that came from working longer hours with the same people and removing what was essentially an informal support system. This lack of support leads to high levels of stress and burnout, with high rates of suicide for this group of clinical professionals.

The suggestions cited in the ‘Commission on the Future of Surgery’ report included the use of programmes such as ‘Schwartz Rounds’, a proposal put forward by ‘Surgery & Emotion’. A Schwartz Round is a structured forum where all staff come together regularly to discuss the emotional and social aspects of working in healthcare.

The project will use the new Wellcome Trust funding to engage the public with its research, breaking down stereotypes of the aloof and arrogant surgeon. It will also promote the emotional health and wellbeing of surgeons.

The project will put surgeons and members of the public in dialogue with each other in order to humanise surgeons and de-mystify surgery. There will be a series of surgical ‘speed-meets’, organised by Engagement Fellow Dr Alison Moulds, where people will be able to chat to surgeons in an informal setting, asking them questions about their job, including its rewards and challenges, and how they feel about practice. It is hoped that this will improve relationships between healthcare professionals and patients.

Project Principal Investigator Dr Michael Brown says, ‘This funding is hugely important in allowing us to spread the impact of our research beyond academics and surgeons, bringing members of the public into direct contact with medical professionals, and breaking down some of the barriers that inhibit productive conversations between the public and those who take our lives in their hands’.