Volume 12, Number 5 October 22, 2004

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Study’s goal to empower people & health-care practitioners

By Amie Lynn Shirkie

Viv Ramsden

PhD student Viv Ramsden conducted much of her research listening to her study subjects’ stories in Tim Hortons.

Photo by Amie Lynne Shirkie

Most graduate students take their breaks in coffee shops, but Viv Ramsden thought they made ideal environments for conducting her thesis research. “I spent a lot of time doing interviews in the Tim Hortons on 22nd Street,” she recalls.

It was all part of Ramsden’s unique approach of taking health care to the people. Rather than conducting interviews in the pristine and rather intimidating environment of the hospital, Ramsden decided to talk with individuals about their health histories and personal stories in a more comfortable setting.

Ramsden, a nurse and clinician with 30 years of experience, had listened to individuals and health-care practitioners express their feelings of inadequacy and frustration in making changes involving their health. She wanted to develop a model that would allow people to collaborate with health-care practitioners in constructing successful, personalized wellness and health-promotion programs based on individual strengths and experiences.

Ramsden’s experiences as a nurse taught her the importance of prevention. With a goal of improving the prevention strategies of both individuals and health-care practitioners, she entered the Interdisciplinary Studies doctoral program at the U of S.

Under the supervision of faculty Ken Jacknicke, Allan Ryan, and David Popkin, Ramsden worked with seven people who lived in core communities in Saskatoon to develop health promotion programs based on the integration of their stories with their health histories.

“Generally, when a health-care practitioner takes down an individual’s health history, a lot of strictly medical information is collected, but very little personal context.”

Ramsden believes that listening to an individual’s stories is a key part of not only understanding health history, but also the person.

“It is from the strengths and previous experiences of individuals that sustainable health promotion programs can be developed, implemented, and changed as necessary. I wanted to learn about the context of their lives. Not just the health history, but what brought them to this point in time, and what their dreams for the future were.”

Through successful collaboration, Ramsden and these seven individuals designed and constructed the Enhancing Wellness Model.

To Ramsden’s knowledge, “this is the only model within the context of clinical practice that has engaged the end-users in its development. Traditionally, models are designed by a group of ‘experts’ within a specific field of endeavour and applied, modified, and re-applied by health-care practitioners on individuals.”

Aside from being unique, the model also appears to be successful. According to Ramsden, “Seven out of seven individuals indicated the model would assist them in making sustainable changes to enhance their health and well-being.” In addition, five of the seven people said the model helped to empower them in their interactions with various members of the health-care team.

There were also a few unintended results of this collaboration: “Each of the seven individuals are now engaged in some form of meaningful work, and many have been inspired to seek further education. I never would have imagined these results possible,” Ramsden says.

She is quick to credit her participants for the success of the model: “They were very courageous in their honesty and willingness to share. It’s not my model, it’s ours. They are the co-authors of this endeavour.”

Ramsden, who successfully defended her dissertation this summer, hopes to apply her model to other communities and primary health-care settings, including northern Saskatchewan and southern India.

She says her ultimate goal is to inspire individuals to ask questions of their health-care practitioners and take the initiative in developing their own health promotion programs and prevention strategies.

She also hopes to make health-care practitioners rethink their approach to working with individuals.

Amie Lynn Shirkie writes graduate student profiles for the College of Graduate Studies & Research.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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