So… a few days ago, I noticed that there is a vacancy to apply for my dream job, and I am ready to take on the challenge! The position is a research assistant, working with Dr Roberta Woodgate - founder of IN.GAUGE, and when I saw it, I nearly fell out of my chair! I have been looking for this type of opportunity to work with an organization like this for years, and I cannot pass up the chance to apply.
I first encountered Dr Woodgate’s work through a video series she did - A day in the life of a teen with Anxiety - and this was a video where dancers from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Aspirant Program used the content of the research that she carried out with the teens and their families to create these videos to show the issues that these young people were experiencing in their lives. I was looking for examples of qualitative research which was collaborative, multidisciplinary, and also that worked very closely with the participants, and that was easily accessible to those who are non- academic, and someone I met pointed me towards this project. I was thrilled!! I love dance and music, and this was a fantastic showcase of her research in a way that I could immediately identify with. After watching the videos, I followed up with her, and reached out a few times via email, however, I did not get a reply. But I never stopped searching for new projects from her, or ways that I could find out more about her work and what she does.
First - a bit about IN.GAUGE. Dr Woodgate has a multidisciplinary clinical background and a passion for working with children and their families. During her years of clinical practice, she “grew tired of seeing research being done on children rather than with them” and stated that “When dealing with health problems, we need to be asking children, youth, and families about their needs and their desired outcomes. We shouldn’t be always determining what’s better for them.” She developed IN.GAUGE as a project to help youth and their families communicate how illness affects them through drawings, dance, videos and photovoice.
There are so many things I love about her project and initiatives. I have always had a larger question which was - why is there so little collaboration during research and program design, between those who are doing the designing and those who they are designing for? It seemed like an obvious place to start with decisionmakers communicating better with those for whom they are making the decisions, but I observed that this was seldom the case, and instead they would use their expertise thinking that they knew best. However, I have always found that we as clinicians and deisionmakers, see things through our own lenses and experiences, rather than those of the people that we are working with and it seemed to be a step missing in the process. Some time ago, I wrote a post about this missing step - the gap - and my opinion which is that one way to bridge the gap could be through sharing stories and experiences, and this is why I believe that qualitative research has a role to play in this. I believe that this is a great way to include people’s personal experiences into study design and research data, and I loved how Dr Woodgate tackled this, as well as how she included the artistic expression.
In doing my research for this position, as well as how I can best describe to Dr Woodgate why I would make a great addition to her team, I decided to make a list of 5 ways how my skills and experiences would be a great asset to her research and her projects.
As a long time clinician - dentist (18 years), I work closely with patients - many of whom are scared and anxious, and have a great love for communicating with these patients, as well as making them comfortable as we discuss and carry out the treatment plans. I am a firm believer in this being a collaborative process, along with my expertise, so that we can diagnose and treat patients with good clinical techniques but also in ways that make them comfortable and feel seen and heard. I think that my experience as a clinician would be a great asset to this organization.
During my years working in community dentistry in the UK, a large part of my work was with children and teens, as we focused heavily on these groups in our work. Children and teens who were very nervous and anxious and unable to accept treatment elsewhere were referred to us, and actually - working with these young people was a real joy to me as I watched them change and grow. In addition, our clinic worked with children in care, and patients who had special needs - physical, societal, behavioural and congenital. We did home visits, as well as spent time at the schools doing their preventive and restorative work, and were able to develop relationships with the parents and children, and I was able to see first hand some of their challenges and concerns, and advocate on their behalf, as well as working with the multidisciplinary team on treatment planning and execution. This gave me great insight into working with youth and their families, as well as with other clinicians, and I have developed skill at communicating with both groups in meaningful ways that can lead to improved treatment and health. I would love to bring my skills at communication and knowledge transfer and working with healthcare teams as well as patients to Dr Woodgate’s team.
I have continued to work closely with Special Olympics since I returned to Barbados, training as a clinical director. This involves co-ordination of the Healthy Athlete program here in Barbados, as well as training for new dentists and staff who are taking part in the screening that is done every year. We collect data on the dental needs of the children who are special olympic athletes, as well as giving homecare instructions, and providing a referral pathway for parents and guardians who need further treatment for the children. However, my experience also includes working with the British Association for the Study of Community Dentistry during my time working in the UK, where we conducted the research that compiled oral health data for children of various ages, and this information was used in conjunction with program design within the community dental service. This work on research with youth has given me some experience and knowledge, and I look forward to expanding that experience and knowledge as I work with Dr Woodgate and IN.GAUGE
My voluntary work has played a big part in my life. I currently belong to the Optimist Club of Barbados, a service organization which works with youth in community, and it is one of my biggest passions. We work closely with youth who is at risk - including those who are wards of the state - creating programs which are hands on, so that our members can work closely with their communities. These include reading programs, breakfast programs, an oratorical competition and back to school initiatives to name a few. I joined this organization due to my love of working with youth, and my commitment to serving the families in my community. We work closely with schools and teachers, parents and the students, to design our programs. One of my big concerns in my voluntary work is sustainability. Optimist isn’t the only organization I have worked with - I have been fortunate to also work with charities in the UK including SHELTER - a charity that works with the homeless. Sustainability is important, as often non-profits rely on grants and fundraising, and this means that they may sometimes compromise on what they are able to provide. In addition, I want any work I do in service to be empowering to the groups that I work with, and I love that this is something which IN.GAUGE appears to have as a value. My voluntary work has given me experience and training in seeking funding and grant proposals, and working directly with youth and their families - which I believe will be a great asset in this role.
Everything else!! I also believe that my background, interests and other courses which I have taken would stand me in good stead for this job. I am a passionate writer, and love to write about life experiences, my story (and other’s stories) as well as exploring big topics through my blog, and through fiction. I am currently self publishing my first book, but I have also write about oral health for the public, and you can see an example of this here in a blog post which I wrote for International Oral health day (as well as other examples of my writing from the links below!) I am looking forward to using my interest in diverse communities and learning about other cultures, natural curiousity and creativity within the organization. My love for teaching patients and other clinicians has led to me being able to lecture at a Caribbean conference, as well as to regularly attend primary schools here in Barbados to lead oral health sessions for the children up to age 11. My experience living and working in various countries has given me good communication skills with people from all places (and even though I have not lived in Canada since I was a child - it feels like it would be coming home!). And I am a scientist and a clinician (and a baker!) but also a creative, a writer and a student of life.
I hope that these skills and passions would make me a welcome addition to the team and I look forward to conversing further.
And I close with a part of a personal essay I wrote some time ago, after discovering the work of Dr Brene Brown. I have read many of her books and this is how I first became interested in various forms of qualitative research (including grounded theory research which seems to be her preferred technique). I really believe that using our stories to connect us - even in research - can lead to improved programs which are sustainable and empowering, and I hope that we can connect further and that you also think I would make a great research assistant for this position.
I have a real passion for empowering vulnerable groups, who are the most susceptible to dental disease, and to disease in general. And I also work every day with people from all walks of life. And the more I spoke to people, listened to people, the more I realized that the things which really affect not only the health of some of these vulnerable groups but also their approach and access to treatment (healthcare) and the other things in their life which feed into their health is a lack of empowerment.
Empowerment. This word has consistently been on my mind recently and I find that those who feel disempowered for whatever reason struggle to look after themselves, to access healthcare and other services that may be useful to them, and struggle to advocate for themselves and their families. But an even bigger problem I find, is that the decisionmakers (and pardon the blatant generalization here) which include academics, policy makers, and yes even us clinical professionals – are often the people in a country who ARE empowered, and we place blame on the disempowered for not speaking up. Often, we do not understand how it feels to be disempowered. Sometimes, we individualize problems – not just health but problems such as the inequalities that women face, or persons with disabilities, or poverty to name a few - and blame the individuals for not making different choices. We do not see it as a societal problem that persons who fall into particular groups are marginalized and disempowered, and therefore do not enjoy the rights and even privileges that are available to us.
Now, you know all of this and much more I am sure, so perhaps you are wondering why I am writing this letter. It is because I have come to feel that the thing which ties people together and empowers them is their ability to tell their story. As I mentioned – I am a scientific person and I love the idea for evidence basis for making improvements, but I do not believe that the only evidence we have is in the form of data. I would like to see people’s stories incorporated into the design of studies, as well as used when tackling issues of health and poverty.
And until then, I send you big love from a small island!
Here are a few links to some of my favourite posts I have written over the past 2 years