‘Inspiring Stories’ with Ingrid Muller

Lecturer

i.muller@soton.ac.uk

This is part of the Engaged Medicine ‘Inspiring Stories’ blog series. The blogs explore the stories behind outreach and patient-public engagement activities of staff and students from the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine.

How I got started with public engagement and patient involvement

As a Health Psychologist and behavioural scientist, I have always taken a patient-centred approach to my research and I have been lucky to work in research groups with an embedded culture of patient and public involvement. As a PhD student, I took part in LifeLab ‘meet the scientist’ events for local young people. This experience helped improve the way I communicate my research to public audiences, and it was great to see young people inspired by modern science, research and career possibilities.

My experience of engaging with patients and the public

I work closely with patient and public contributors on all aspect of research. Some of my most exciting research questions have come from public contributors. For example, a public contributor got in touch with my team after noticing a change in how parents discuss allergy on online forums. This has led to two small studies on the topic and a funding application with the aim to develop a behavioural intervention to support families.  

Some of the public contributors I work with are very experienced, while others are completely new to research. I find it helpful to engage wider patient and public input, for example at an early stage when designing the research or when planning implementation. In the past I have done this through engaging with established patient panels, through social media, and by engaging members of the public through support organisations and charities. We also set up our own patient panel a few years ago when we were starting several studies on acne and struggling to find people in the right age group and with interest in being involved in research. We advertised through INVOLVE ‘People in Research’ for people with experience of acne and were able to form a virtual patient panel of 13 people who have since contributed to several different acne studies.  

I have been involved in a series of patient and public stakeholder workshops about how best to disseminate research findings, which has helped steer our direction for dissemination and implementation.  I am planning to do wider public engagement work with parents/carers, families, and young people in the next year and am excited about working with Wessex PIN on a ‘Reaching Out’ project that plans to visit community venues to seek wider involvement and engagement. 

Public contributor team members have co-presented research findings at academic conferences, co-authored publications and I am currently involved in a NIHR grant application using citizen science that is being co-led by a public contributor.

The importance and impact of Public Engagement / Patient Involvement

Engaging patients and the public has given me a new perspective on my work, has helped my focus, and made my research more relevant and meaningful. I feel more enthusiastic after an engagement event where others often share your aims and excitement for a project. 

The engagement events I have been involved in have led to improved quality of our research by shaping research questions, refining key messages from findings, and by helping us view results in a different context. One example of this is from a patient and public stakeholder event we held as part of a programme of eczema research. This helped us to shape how we frame our research aims by focussing on supporting self-care, rather than reducing GP consultations. It also helped us frame patient-facing materials by referring to our self-care intervention as a toolkit rather than an intervention or a website.

I have made brilliant connections through my Public Engagement activities, which has led to new ideas and opportunities for collaboration beyond my existing academic networks. It has helped make my research more accessible and transparent to public audiences, helped involve more diverse communities and underserved groups in ongoing and future research, and I hope that my public engagement work will create interest amongst young people to consider careers in science and research. ​​​​

Stay Connected! To find out more about the ‘Inspiring Stories’ series, Faculty of Medicine educational programmes and research, or to get involved use the links below or contact Dr Lucy Green.

University staff or students click here for the Engaged Medicine SharePoint

‘Inspiring Stories’ with Ingrid Muller

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