What started as a project for her Critical Enquiry class turned into an award-winning poster presentation for Kirsten Nesset of MEDS 2017.
Nesset attended the 24th annual History of Medicine Days Conference at the University of Calgary in March where she won Best Poster Presentation for “Physicians with Disabilities in Canada: History and Future”.
Classmates Elena Barbir and Sophie Palmer also attended the conference, presenting on their Community-Based Projects. The three received the Boyd Upper Prize, which is awarded to the Queen’s medical student or students who have conducted original historical research and then had the work accepted for presentation at a peer-reviewed meeting.
Nesset’s interest in the area of disability started at home, she explained in an interview.
“It was something I was really interested in because my father has a visual disability and he’s an engineer,” she said. “He lost his vision when I was about 10 – so I grew up with him adapting to that and his work making accommodations.” And this got her thinking.
“You don’t really see many people with visual or physical disabilities in medicine and I wondered what the accommodations might look like for them and what kind of policy might be in place if there was any,” she said. “I wondered what that looked like in Canada.”
She quickly discovered that there wasn’t much information readily available. “It ended up being a much more global project in the end because there’s very little research in Canada,” she said.
As her CE Mentor, Jacalyn Duffin, pointed out: “Her first discovery was that almost no one had published on that topic, although there was a robust literature on burnout, stress, addictions and other mental problems.”
“The absence of any historical predecessors meant that she had to do some original digging, to produce what is effectively the first history on the topic and to try to explain why the question has not been asked before,” Duffin added. “Her research involved searching the literature, news reports, and eventually interviews.”
“Although Kirsten’s focus was Canada, she discovered that a relative silence on physicians with disabilities pervades the literature in general, making her findings relevant well beyond our borders,” Duffin said.
Nesset has plans to continue research in this area. To start, she plans to interview some physicians through the Canadian Association of Physicians with Disabilities. “Some physicians have come forward to say they would be interviewed – because there isn’t a lot of narrative from Canada yet.”
She would also like to delve further into what medical schools list as technical requirements for graduates. “Part of my project was looking into admissions requirements and there’s nothing in those but there’s a lot of talk about meeting technical standards and technical requirements and each school approaches that differently,” she said.
As she is starting her clerkship rotations in the fall, Nesset is hoping to complete some interviews by the end of the summer, but sees this as a longer-term project.
“Realistically, this is something I’ll carry through the next year and hopefully finish up part-way through clerkship.”
One strong lesson from this project is that history does not necessarily mean antiquity or even a few hundred years ago, Nesset said. “From my experience, history can also be incredibly recent. I looked at history as of 1980, essentially, or 1975. Then up until now, which is why it’s titled ‘history and future’.”
“A history of medicine project doesn’t necessarily mean you’re looking far back in the past, it can be more recent and you can apply it to future considerations, for example for policy development,” she said.
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