What are your current research interests?
I am a behavioral scientist who studies provider-patient communication across the cancer continuum. Primarily, I am interested in testing and disseminating innovative methods of improving cancer communication in order to improve patient and provider outcomes.
How did you end up going into medicine? Why did you decide on your specialty?
While I was pursuing my Ph.D. at Northwestern University, I began working with Dr. Greg Makoul, who had founded one of the first communication and medicine programs in the country at Northwestern’s medical school. I always had interest in doing very applied work, and this area of research and education resonated with me immediately.
Why did you decide to focus on cancer?
My initial research focus wasn’t on cancer. A promising career opportunity at a major comprehensive cancer center came along early in my career, and I decided to focus my research and teaching into that area specifically. When you take into account the entire cancer continuum, from risk assessment to primary prevention, detection and diagnosis, into treatment, and then survivorship, there are a multitude of opportunities for the interpersonal communication between provider and patient to really make a difference in patient and caregivers’ outcomes.
What do you want to achieve with your work and/or in your career?
Too often research in provider-patient communication is completed on a small scale, without ever being distributed widely. My overall goal for my research is to find and use innovative strategies to disseminate effective communication interventions for patients and physicians.
What excites you about your work? What is exciting to you about your field right now?
First, I think there is a growing awareness among those who study and teach provider-patient communication that our work can help to address specific problems that are faced during cancer care. Whether it is the transition to survivorship care, making decisions about cancer treatments, lowering readmission rates, improving patient safety, or reducing the cancer burden through appropriate screening, communications scholars can help. Working across disciplines to develop multilevel interventions is often the best way to address such problems. Second, generally speaking, our field is past the point of needing to test whether many types of communication interventions work. Instead, I believe we need to be focusing on a more fine-tailoring of such interventions – under what conditions do these interventions work and for whom do they work. For instance, in one of my NCI-funded projects, my colleagues and I found that physicians who had fewer skills at baseline benefited significantly more from a communication intervention than those who had more skills at baseline.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Going to my children’s sports and activities, traveling and working on home improvements.