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On a mission to improve communication in healthcare

Alison Pilnick is a FLIER participant and Professor of Language, Medicine and Society at the University of Nottingham. We asked her what she has learned on the FLIER programme and how it’s helping her improve communication in healthcare.


Q: What issue in health research do you want to take on and why?

A: As a sociologist of health and illness, I've been researching communication in healthcare since my PhD. But it’s frustrating when social science is seen purely as an evaluation tool for healthcare policy, rather than fundamental to its development. Studying healthcare interaction can reveal how and why policies don’t work as intended. This is often because there's a conflict between what policy dictates and what we know about how interactions usually work. My mission is to get to a place where policy making is informed by this knowledge.

Q: What have you done as a result of FLIER?

A: FLIER has given me the confidence to be much braver in pursuing my ideas and in approaching colleagues about possible collaborations. I used my FLIER project as the basis for a successful British Academy Senior Research Fellowship application. This project will use the data from consultations that I’ve collected over the last 20 years to show why the delivery of patient centred care has proved so problematic in practice.

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?

A: Even though everyone thinks you're mad for giving up your career in pharmacy with a vague idea that you're going to study how people talk to one another, it will turn out just fine in the end. Keep working on the things that you believe are interesting and important, because you will be able to have a positive impact on patient experiences. And when opportunities like FLIER come along, take a deep breath and go for it!

Q: What are your hopes for the future in health care?

A: The pandemic has been an incredibly challenging time for the health sector, but it has also underlined the need for effective communication to go hand in hand with healthcare innovation, policy and practice. I hope that silos will continue to break down and that the place for the study of how people communicate with one another will become firmly established in cross sector collaborations.


Professor Alison Pilnick is a participant in Round 2 of the Academy of Medical Sciences’ FLIER programme, a unique programme that will develop leaders of the future who can create collaborations across academia, industry, the NHS and government to drive innovation.

The FLIER programme is generously supported by the Dennis and Mireille Gillings Foundation and the Government Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ‘Investment in Research Talent’ fund. You can find out more about our funding model and explore our donors here, or visit our Support Us webpage to explore ways to help our work. 

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