Finding My Passion in Health Research

By Thomasina Donovan, AusHSI PhD Scholar

Thomasina Donovan

I considered doing a PhD for a few years before I was offered the opportunity to study at AusHSI. My first exposure to conducting research was my Honours year, where I explored the epigenetic regulation in cancer cells using laboratory techniques. Even though I had strong interests in the science, I knew I had strengths outside of the laboratory that I wanted to explore and develop further before committing to a PhD.

For the next 3 years, I reflected on what I enjoyed most about research while working in a similar area of epigenetics in oncology and immunology. I knew I wanted to improve people’s quality of life through health research, but then I learned that it takes 17 years, on average, for research evidence to reach clinical practice. This led me to discover implementation science, a field that facilitates behaviour change to aid the translation of research into clinical practice.

During this time, AusHSI advertised a PhD project in implementation science and digital health. Digital health can improve healthcare services by addressing healthcare challenges with technology, which aligned with my goal to improve people’s quality of life. Implementing technology in hospitals is complex but implementation science can help by using activities involving training, educational materials, clinical champions, and stakeholder engagement.

Although I was not offered the advertised position, through discussions with my future supervisors, we created a wonderful PhD program incorporating yet another field, health economics. Implementation activities are not often costed and there aren’t many approaches to cost implementation. This can lead to inefficient use of scarce healthcare resources. My PhD aims to address this need by developing an implementation costing tool to help with estimating the true cost of implementing digital health solutions in hospitals.

A highlight of my PhD journey thus far has been presenting findings from my systematic review at two conferences: QUT School of Public Health and Social Work Impact Makers Conference 2021 and Implementation Science Health Conference Australia 2021. I was delighted to be awarded first place and best rapid-fire presentation for concurrent session ‘Digital Health & Decision Support’ at the conferences, respectively.

I have a strong, unwavering passion for my PhD topic which I attribute to the time I spent reflecting on what I enjoyed about research, what skills I wanted to develop and being open-minded to new fields. The support and encouragement from my supervisors, peers and the greater AusHSI team has immensely contributed towards my positive PhD experience.