School of Public Health and Community Medicine

From student to teacher: Ebony’s nursing career with older people informs her research

Ebony LewisEbony Lewis’ experience as an emergency and practice nurse working with elderly patients has inspired her research in this area. Ebony completed a Masters of International Public Health at SPHCM in 2014 and joined the School in September 2018 as an Associate Lecturer in Aboriginal Health. She also works part time conducting health assessments of older people in the community.

What is the key focus of your research?

My program of research is about improving the end-of-life experience for elderly patients, their loved ones and clinicians. I am passionate about this area of research because I know from my own personal and clinical work that at times older people at the end of their lives are subjected to burdensome treatments that they may not have wanted.

Have there been any surprising results?

A surprising result, for me at least, came from a systematic review my team members conducted that found one in three elderly patients who were hospitalised in the last six months of their lives had been subjected to treatments that didn’t necessarily prolong their life and may actually have impaired their quality of life.

What has been the impact so far of your research?

I think the biggest impact has been through my work as the lead nurse in implementing and validating a prognostic tool called CriSTAL (Criteria for Screening and Triaging to Appropriate aLternative care). CriSTAL identifies older patients who are at risk of death to encourage health professionals to have honest conversations with patients and their families about end-of-life care planning. We validated this tool with more than 3000 elderly people in hospitals in several countries including Ireland, Denmark, the US and Australia. We hope the tool will reduce unnecessary suffering and lead to elderly patients and their families to have more of a voice in end-of-life care.

What attracted you to the UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine?

Studying the Masters of International Public Health at UNSW was a very positive experience. The School – and all the university – is made up of an incredibly diverse group of staff and students and there’s a strong commitment to respecting cultural diversity. I was also attracted to the School’s contribution to teaching and research in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and its strong track record in the management of chronic disease, especially in primary health.

The great thing about the School is that it has such a strong reputation in Australia and internationally. It has leaders in the field of public health and they are very supportive of new staff. It’s a positive and friendly environment.

What else would you like to accomplish?

The most important thing going into research is to find an area of research that inspires you, so you can build a career and contribute in that area for many years. I want to inspire and motivate our students to follow the issues they feel passionate about – just like I have been able to pursue my passion for improving end-of-life care for elderly people.