My Fellowship Journey: Doing What l Value

05 April 2022

I have reached that point in my PhD when everyone is asking me “when is your PhD ending?”. I’m about halfway through and I’m enjoying it. I’m not wishing it away just yet! And l respond by saying l am enjoying it and wish it would never end because l do feel like that.

Nevertheless, this question makes me reflect on my journey so far. It all started in 2016-2018, when l was working as a research associate on a research project where every single month l had to ask care home residents about their Quality Of Life (QOL) using a general questionnaire. And eventually one resident got fed up and asked me if l could please change these questions because it didn’t make sense to them. l listened and went away to look at the literature. I found QOL tools that could be used in care homes but none that were designed to be routinely used by care home staff to help them support quality of care.

In 2019 I was so excited when I secured funding from the British Geriatrics Society and Dunhill Medical Trust to start working on developing a care home specific quality of life tool that could be used routinely by care home staff. I was completely thrown when three months into my PhD, COVID happened. Initially I was completely lost. I couldn’t go into care homes to meet staff and residents. I couldn’t even go into my office at the medical school, and my supervisor was needed on the COVID wards. But slowly I found my feet and realised this was a good opportunity to read more substantively around the topic and to plan the rest of my work. Eventually, care home staff found enough time to start to meet with me again online and then, in 2021, I was able to get back in and visit. What struck me, in speaking to staff, was how the pandemic had reinforced the need to routinely capture information about quality of life. Lockdowns, quarantine, regular testing – all these things had affected residents’ QOL, but it was difficult for staff to express in what way and how much.

l have conducted a structured review of the literature, which I use alongside interviews with older care home residents. The next stage is to use a consensus approach to develop a prototype tool. My PhD fellowship has allowed to me to act on and address the feedback I received from care home residents in 2018. I’m proud that my PhD will move us closer to having a tool that allows us to capture the quality of life of older residents, in a meaningful way, to help support their quality of care.

This fellowship has benefited me in several ways.

First, by giving me the opportunity to do what l value and am passionate about. When l started my fellowship, l asked myself what quality of life means to me. And this is one of my interview questions when speaking to older care home residents, their relatives and care home staff. One of my top responses was working on something meaningful and this is exactly what l am doing because it is fulfilling knowing that my tool will be used in future to improve older care home residents’ quality of life.

Second, through this fellowship l was able to undertake external training in research methodologies and in data management software, as well as being supported to work closely with a group of patients and members of the public whose insights have been invaluable.

Finally, this prestigious BGS/Dunhill Fellowship award opened doors for me to be invited to sit on fellowship interview panels, present at local and national events and made people with an interest in my work reach out for informal chats about my project. I have left each of these interactions with food for thought about my project and with new ways of thinking.

Asking myself now if l went back in time, would l apply for this fellowship again? Absolutely! I would embrace it with open arms.

Adeela Usman is a Joint British Geriatrics Society/Dunhill Medical Trust Doctoral Training Fellow based at the Centre for Rehabilitation and Ageing Research, School of Medicine, University of Nottingham, UK. She can be contact at Adeela [dot] usman [at] nottingham [dot] ac [dot] uk and tweets at @adeela_usman


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