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Spotlight on our first clinical research fellow in serious illness communication

Meet Helen James, MBBS, FAChPM

Our first Clinical Research Fellow reflects on her time in the Lab. Helen writes:

I applied for this fellowship because I trusted it would allow me to work within a team aiming to improve communication skills for healthcare workers across an entire system, and the experience has certainly exceeded my expectations. It’s exciting to be the first Fellow in The Conversation Lab. My training and research focus is on how we practically teach serious illness communication skills to trainees and practicing clinicians.

"The interest and excitement about the work from patient partners, clinicians, and academics demonstrates to me the Conversation Lab is on the right track with the work they are doing."

This fellowship gave me the opportunity to complete the VitalTalk Faculty Development course, which gave me a framework and the confidence to teach practical evidence-based skills for clinicians from diverse specialty backgrounds. One of my research projects is looking at teaching outcomes following completion of Faculty Development training. I’m interested in knowing how such training impacts the attitudes, confidence and teaching behaviours of the program’s faculty, which may help other institutions learn how to scale this needed work.

My knowledge and skills in communication and research have expanded tremendously through the teaching, self-directed learning opportunities, and collaboration this fellowship has provided. I’ve been able to lead and collaborate on research projects and write and publish a manuscript (with more to come!). The highlight so far has been co-presenting some of the Conversation Lab’s peer-reviewed accepted work at the International Congress of Academic Medicine in Quebec City (2023) and in Vancouver (upcoming, 2024). The interest and excitement about the work from patient partners, clinicians, and academics demonstrates to me the Conversation Lab is on the right track with the work they are doing and the value that coordinated, and system-based, skills training can have across a healthcare system.

Beyond fellowship, I’m looking forward to continuing to teach communication skills with this program and use the knowledge and skills I’ve gained through this training to expand and build upon the Lab’s offerings at other institutions.