Farah Shiraz and Emmylou Rahtz are PhD students funded by Saving Faces. Here they tell us about their projects, looking at the emotional wellbeing and quality of life of surgical patients and their families.
About our project
The main goal of our project is to get a better understanding of how patients and their families feel after going through facial surgery, and we’re each working on different elements of the same overall project. Emmy’s research focuses on the patients themselves; people who have had head and neck cancer or injuries to the face, and looks at their emotional wellbeing. Farah’s project investigates the quality of life of partners as well as patients, and looks into how partners’ emotional states can influence patients’ wellbeing.
We’re interested in the different ways people cope with what can be a very difficult experience, and which can lead to anxiety, depression and stress problems – whether they are going through it themselves, or supporting someone in their family through it. We are investigating this by asking people and their partners (if they have one) to answer a set of questionnaires for us, and to take part in an interview. Our hope is that our research findings will help medical staff to identify people who might need some extra emotional help, whether they are patients or their family members. If they can be identified and helped early on, this might lessen the distress.
The journey so far
We’re nine months into our project now and we’ve carried out an audit with Professor Iain Hutchison on everyone who comes to the clinic: it consisted of a questionnaire that asked about patients’ health and wellbeing, and their experiences of coming to the clinic. People were really helpful, and we would like to thank everyone who filled it in. A few people commented that they didn’t think questions about feelings were relevant to them, or that they ‘don’t get emotional’; but it’s important to say that our aim is to get an overview of everyone’s reactions, not just those of one group or another. We want to find out what makes people react differently.
It’s been a real eye-opener to see how very hard everyone works in the clinics, from the receptionists through to the consultants. They work long hours and can nearly always spare a smile or an encouraging word, and they still find time to help us out, whether helping us with the audit, introducing us to patients or explaining how something works. The surgeons are enthusiastic about our research and have been fully supportive in working with us to gain the best results for their patients. We’re fortunate to be supervised by three people who are eminent in their fields: as well as Professor Hutchison, we also work with Professor Ania Korszun and Professor Kamaldeep Bhui from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. We’re also getting wonderful support from Saving Faces, and as we continue to work on our project, we’re confident we can give something back.
The most enjoyable part for us so far has been attending the clinics where we have met some truly inspirational people amongst the staff and the patients. This has given us even more passion and motivation to continue with the project.
Our immediate next step will be to analyse the results from the audit; this will give us an indication of how common emotional problems are in the different clinics. At the same time we are starting on the next element of the project, when we’ll be recruiting new patients and their partners.
You may have seen us the clinics already, when we’ve been asking people to fill in questionnaires, and if you haven’t seen us yet, you may come across us in the next few years recruiting new patients and their partners, or at a Saving Faces event. We look forward to meeting you.
I originally studied English and earned a BA and MA in English Literature from Durham and King’s College London. I started out my working life in social research, specialising in learning and education, carrying out research projects mainly for universities and government organisations. I got more and more interested in how people think and feel, especially when they have to deal with difficult situations like illness and injury. So I went back to university in the evenings and got another degree – a BSc in Psychology – and now I’m pulling together all my experience and skills to work on this project.
I graduated in 2005 from Cardiff University with a Psychology degree and also have a Masters in Abnormal and Clinical Psychology. I have worked clinically as an assistant psychologist which involved working directly with individuals with severe emotional distress. I have also worked within child and family services offering emotional and practical support to families. From my clinical experience I learnt that when clinicians were supporting families as well as patients it often helped in the patients’ road to recovery. This sparked my interest to raise awareness about the psychological needs of families as well as patients, as it’s often families – particularly partners – that provide the support and care for patients.