International Collaborations Make Our Work Stronger: Doctoral Training Centre Student Courtney Shaw visits Professor Rick Fortinsky

The week of June 10-15 I was privileged to have an opportunity to visit one of the University of Bradford’s international partners.

Each of the students at the Doctoral Training centre is matched with an international expert who can provide international perspective and help introduce early career researchers to new academics in the broader field of dementia research. As part of my PhD I was matched with Prof Rick Fortinsky who is Professor at the School of Medicine and researcher at the Centre for Aging Research, University of Connecticut (UConn)_. Rick put together an incredible itinerary for my visit which included;

Monday: Monday morning I met with the staff from the Centre for aging and had a tour of the facility. In the afternoon I met with 3 geriatricians who work in the outpatient section of the UConn health centre and spoke informally about my research into dementia friendly emergency departments. One of the interesting things I learned while I visited is that in Connecticut most geriatricians work in the outpatient settings rather than acute care. With 10 full time geriatricians on staff, the UConn health service is uniquely poised to serve the local population of older people. That evening, I joined Rick at the local chapter meeting of the Alzheimer’s Association of Connecticut (an organisation akin to our Alzheimer’s society in the UK) and presented to their scientific advisory committee about my research.

Tuesday: Tuesday I travelled to New York city- about three hours away- to meet with Professor Ula Hwang, an expert in Geriatric Emergency medicine. We spoke about my research and the opportunities in the field going forward. One of the highlights of my visit was a tour of the Mt. Sinai Emergency Department, which is one of only three Tier 1 accredited geriatric emergency departments in the United States. I was impressed by what they can achieve in such a busy and crowded department. As Frank Sinatra says, “if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere”. It gives me hope about the potential for embedding better care for older people in even the most chaotic and busy emergency departments.

Wednesday: Another highlight of my visit was my visit on Wednesday morning to the LiveWell Centre. It is a care home which is committed to changing its approach to dementia care, and is encouraging its residents to look to the UK for examples of how people with dementia are getting involved in policy, advocacy and research. I met with three gentlemen who are living with dementia to hear about their dementia peer coalition peer support organization, and their hopes about getting involved in research going forward. They also very kindly took some time to review the proposed model of dementia friendly emergency departments I have been working on with people with dementia and carers in England. Its not everyday you can get a passionate rights advocate, a former university provost and a rocket fuel cell engineer together in one room, much less commenting on your drafted academic outputs! It was a privilege to meet them.

Thursday: On Thursday Rick graciously took a full morning to explain his two major studies in detail to me. They are working on patient and carer interventions in the community to improve/maintain functional status and improve quality of life. One very interesting element of this work was that the research team used emergency department utilisation as one of their data collection points, and we discussed the possibility of using the data for secondary analysis moving forward to identify which patient and carer characteristics are associated with increased risk of admission/readmission.

In the afternoon I was taken for a tour of the Emergency Department at the UConn health centre. It is a brand new facility, and one of the nicest and most dementia friendly physical environments of an ED I have ever seen. Each clinical space was a distinct area, with a glass door that can be fully closed, lights that can be controlled, and beautiful large windows that let in plenty of natural light. The staff was interested in hearing more about the recently released American College of Emergency Physician “GERIATRIC ED accreditation tiers” and how these could potentially be implemented in the setting. It was heartening to see a health system interested in investing in improving health outcomes for older patients. I hope we will be able to collaborate going forward.

That evening I met with other PhD students from the campus and shared experiences of post graduate life over Thai food.

Friday: That morning I had an hour to present my research to the faculty, clinical geriatric fellows, and academic staff of the centre for aging. The key learning point here was no matter how many slides you think you need….have less! The content of the presentation lead to some wonderful discussions with staff over the rest of the morning.

The week at UConn flew by, and am so grateful for the opportunity to expand my professional circle and learn more about the fantastic research which is happening in Connecticut. I believe more than ever that international collaborations make our research stronger and more likely to be translational.

Written by Courtney Shaw