Mar 25

Southwest Undergraduate Psychology Conference 2012

It was a glorious sunny day in Plymouth for the 2012 South West Undergraduate Psychology Conference.  The day took place in the Portland Square Building split between the three lecture theatres and the large open plan atrium called the Peninsula Arts Cube3 Gallery.  The conference is an opportunity for the regional universities, students and their lecturers to share experiences, research, discuss ideas, feedback and network with each other and particularly with practising psychologists.

Registration (programme_2012 and abstracts_2012) was in the Cube3 Gallery where the attendees could view Peter Fitzpatrick’s exhibit ‘Latitude 79 Degrees 5 Minutes South 11 Miles’ , and visit me on the BPS stand to find out about the Society.  All five universities from the region were represented, with people travelling up to 3 hours by train, coach, car and foot.  With the hundred or so delegates signed in, and with programmes in hand, the three streams of lectures commenced.

Forty-Two undergraduates delivered talks on topics ranging from the effect of biodiversity in exhibits effecting viewing time, to self perception of appearance in weight trainers.  The format was a standard academic style with the presenters briefed to talk for ten minuets and then the audience were given 5 minuets to ask questions.  The full range of presentation styles was demonstrated including slick delivery of the ‘by the book’ academic talk, through interactive group presentations, to a more free-form approach.  All included professional audio visuals, representing the thousands of hours of work undertaken by the presenters for their final year projects.

In addition to the talks, twenty-nine posters were on display throughout the day, with their authors ready, willing and able to answer questions from the other delegate over the lunch hour.  As with the presentations, the posters showed the spread of potential approaches with institutional templates following standard academic formats to individualistic representations with drawings and photographs from study participants.

The day was drawn to an end with the Keynote lecture, introduced by conference organiser Dr Bill Simpson, Prof Chris Mitchell gave a stimulating and amusing lecture entitles ‘Why Cognitive Psychology?’  I personally particularly enjoyed his dance representing the movement of E.coli from low to high glucose states.

The last formal aspect of the day was the presentation of the prizes.  Sponsored by the British Psychological Society South West Branch, Dr Simpson announced prizes of book tokens for winners and runners-up in categories of Best Presentation and Best Poster. The winners were;

–        Best Presentation; Katherine Wood (University of Bath, Theory of Mind and Anxiety: Their relationship in children and adolescents with autism)

–        Second Prize went to Thomas Davis (University of Bristol, Aggregation of Protean Prey Escape: Countershading confuses a predator’s visual tracking during attack)

–        Best Poster; James Nagata (University of Bristol, Strategies to overcome the neural and attentional demands of multiple object tracking)

–        Second Prize went to Jodie Nicholls (University of Plymouth, Dectection of abnormalities in synthetic mammogram backgrounds)

The day was rounded off with a final opportunity to congratulate all the attendees and do more networking.  This time with a glass of wine and the happy laid back feeling that comes with the final release of pressure felt after completing a good day’s work.  The day was a great demonstration of the vibrancy in psychology and the talent of the up and coming practitioners.  As a member of that community I hope that all the presenters got as much from the day as I did.

Oct 27

An exploratory study into HNC patients’ perceptions of their appearance

Every now and again we are fortunate enough to have an opportunity to under take a piece of research in an area that we are passionate about. For a number of years, I’ve been interested in how the treatment of head and neck cancer (HNC) affects a patient’s perceptions about their appearance. As part of my recent MSc in Health Psychology with the University of West of England, I was required to undertake a small research project and decided to scope an exploratory study into this topic. My supervisor Dr Tim Moss suggested that I include an investigation of the concept of ‘positivity’ (also refered to as posttraumatic growth).  The project has now been completed and written up.  Below is a copy of the abstract and if you are interested a PDF will be available in the near future.

The extent of Patients’ Positivity, Appearance Adjustment and Quality of Life following treatment for Head and Neck Cancer: An exploratory study

Background: Facial disfigurement is considered to be one of the most distressing aspects of head and neck cancer (HNC) and its treatment, but it has been the focus of little systematic study.  However there is a growing body of literature supporting the suggestion that such a stressful event may be a catalyst for positive psychosocial changes.  To date there are no existing studies looking at the relationship between quality of life (QoL), sense of appearance and positivity in this patient group.

Aim: To investigate how HNC affect patients’ QoL, sense of appearance and positivity.

Method: A Questionnaire battery containing the Medical Outcomes Short Form 12 (SF-12), Derriford Appearance Scale (DAS24) and Silver Lining Questionnaire (SLQ) was sent to 1,571 patients treated by the Maxillofacial Department in 2009.  The same measures with the inclusion of the University of Washington QoL Questionnaire (UoW), were posted to 299 HNC patients.  The study compares the Maxillofacial patients and HNC patients with reference data and explores associations with clinical factors.

Results: Reasons for non-completion of the questionnaires was given by a 118 patients.  Two hundred and thirty nine (15%) of the Maxillofacial patients and one hundred and thirty two (44%) of the HNC patients returned questionnaires.

The HNC patients had reported less distress and dysfunction related to appearance than age and gender matched norms.  They had similar QoL to other reported HNC patients, but worse than an age matched norm group.  Tumour stage was the only demographic to reveal a difference in relation to appearance.  The HNC patients also reported having a greater sense of positivity than the maxillofacial group and a similar level to previous data collected on lung cancer patients.

The complexity of the patient cohort has introduced many confounding variables, and the number of completed questionnaires was insufficient to identify the significance factors related to the data obtained on the measures.  Although there are indications that age and cancer staging may be particularly important.

Conclusions: The data collected in this study suggests that appearance issues are of less concern to HNC patients than the general population, and that they appear to be more positive, but further research is needed to investigate individual differences allowing for all the confounding variables.  Allowing for the lack of significant findings, we posit some hypotheses that would merit further investigation.  We also suggests that a follow up study, using the same validated questionnaires, over an extended patient group and longitudinally, may be able to identify significant co-variables. This may in turn inform the provision of support and information for patients to aid them in their difficult time.

May 11

The performance of junior doctors in applying clinical pharmacology knowledge and prescribing skills to standardised clinical cases

I have recently submitted a thesis for a masters of philosphy, entitled: The Design and Validation of assessment tools for use with Junior Doctors in Applying Clinical Pharmacology.  Part of this work has been written up and will be published in the next edition (June 2010) of the peer reviewed academic journal British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Entitled: The performance of junior doctors in applying clinical pharmacology knowledge and prescribing skills to standardised clinical cases. This paper builds on the fact that safe prescribing is a core competency in undergraduate medical education. That a large proportion of undergraduate medical students and recently graduated doctors in the UK are not confident in their ability to effectively and safely prescribe and that errors are common in all healthcare settings and prescribing errors are the most common type.

This study produced twelve valid and statistically reliable assessments of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics (CPT) knowledge and prescribing skills in areas that pose a high risk to patient safety. The findings show that a large proportion of Foundation Year 1 (FY1) doctors fail to demonstrate the level of CPT knowledge and prescribing ability judged by a subject matter expert (SME) panel to be required at this stage of their careers. My co-authors (Prof Nicky Britten & Dr David Bristow) suggest strategies and areas where teaching can be focused to improve the safety and effectiveness of FY1 doctors’ prescribing.

If this is an area of interest then below is the abstract related to the article and a link to the journal.



Recent studies suggest a worryingly high proportion of final year medical students and new doctors feel unprepared for effective and safe prescribing.  Little research has been undertaken on UK junior doctors to see if these perceptions translate into unsafe prescribing practice.  We aimed to measure the performance of foundation year 1 (FY1) doctors in applying clinical pharmacology and therapeutics (CPT) knowledge and prescribing skills using standardised clinical cases.


A subject matter expert (SME) panel constructed a blueprint and from this twelve assessments focussing on areas posing high risk to patient safety and deemed as essential for FY1 doctors to know. Assessments comprised six Extended Matching Questions (EMQ) and six Written Unobserved Structured Clinical Examinations (WUSCE) covering seven CPT domains.  Two of each assessment types were administered over three time points to 128 FY1 doctors.


The twelve assessments were valid and statistically reliable. Across seven CPT areas tested 51-75% of FY1 doctors failed EMQs and 27-70% failed WUSCEs. The WUSCEs showed three performance trends; 30% of FY1 doctors consistently performing poorly, 50% performing around the passing score, and 20% performing consistently well.  Categorical rating of the WUSCEs revealed 5% (8/161) of scripts contained errors deemed as potentially lethal.


This study shows that a large proportion of FY1 doctors fail to demonstrate the level of CPT knowledge and prescribing ability required at this stage of their careers. We identify areas of performance weakness that pose high risk to patient safety and suggest ways to improve FY1 doctors’ prescribing.

Nov 11

Clinical Assessment Tools need to be user friendly

Doctor-Patient contact time is vitally important for diagnosis and treatment.  To aid doctors thousands of ‘tools’ have been developed for use in various fields of medical practice.  But as new technology (including physical assessment and validated questionnaires) is introduced assessment tools become redundent and others are introduced. However technological advances tend to be expensive and time consuming to train medical staff to use.  It is also the case that they often require additional physical space, time to administer and a level of health of the patient.

CigarettesThe aim of Dr Rupert Jones and collegues (including me) was to derive a multi-component assessment index for use with patients with COPD to gain a measure of severity. The index was intended to include items that are clinically important, applicable to all grades of disease severity and all healthcare settings, and simple and clear to use.

Traditionally, the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) has been the main measure of COPD severity for clinicians and still has a prominent place in international guidelines. While patients are mainly concerned with symptoms, exacerbations and functional capacity, airflow obstruction is important to clinicians in order to measure the lung damage and determine treatment. A composite measure could account for various dimensions of the disease, and take into account both the patient’s and the physician’s perspectives.

One highly regarded composite measure is the BODE index which was originally designed to predict mortality in COPD. However, the BODE index involves a Six Minute Walking Test (6MWT) which limits its use in routine clinical settings as it takes time, supervision, and space. Another validated prognostic index, the COPD Prognostic Index is also cumbersome to use in routine clinical settings as it includes seven items, one of which is a health status questionnaire.

Therefore we have derived and validated a composite index of severity in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which has recently been accepted for publication by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.  We hope the index will be widley adopted by the medical profession.

If you are unsure of its relevance or usfulness to your practice, below is the abstract associated with the journal article.


Rationale: COPD is increasingly recognized as a multi-component disease with systemic consequences and effects on quality of life. Single measures such as lung function provide a limited reflection of how the disease affects patients. Composite measures have the potential to account for many of the facets of COPD.

Objective: To derive and validate a multi-component assessment tool of COPD severity which is applicable to all patients and healthcare settings.

Methods/ Measurements: The index was derived using data from 375 COPD patients in primary care. Regression analysis led to a model explaining 48% of the variance in health status as measured by the Clinical COPD questionnaire with four components: dyspnea (D), airflow obstruction (O), smoking status (S) and exacerbation frequency (E). The DOSE index was validated in cross-sectional and longitudinal samples in different healthcare settings in Holland, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Main results: The DOSE index correlated with health status in all datasets. A high DOSE index score (> = 4) was associated with a greater risk of hospital admission (odds ratio 8.3 (4.1 – 17) or respiratory failure 7.8 (3.4 – 18.3). The index predicted exacerbations in the subsequent year (p ≤ 0.014).

Conclusions: The DOSE index is a simple valid tool for assessing the severity of COPD. The index is related to a range of clinically important outcomes such as healthcare consumption and predicts future events.

Oct 25

New Perspectives – Is the Leaning Tower of Pisa always inclined?

Recently I posted about an area of research I am interested in and mentioned that we were going to Pisa to present the results at the European Health Psychology Society Annual Conference.

I jokingly asked if Psychology could help the leaning tower and we concluded that the research I was offering up for scrutiny probably wouldn’t.

However the “Inclined Tower“, as a Swiss friend calls it, offers up an obvious, and visual, comparison with some of the benefits from attending conferences.

Its actually quite unusual to learn astounding new facts at academic conferences. Most of the formats involved are just too short and the programme too crowded to allow for a long and detailed examination of new research (that’s what Journal papers are really for). In Pisa there were nearly 1,300 separate pieces of research being presented, either in 15 min oral presentations, posters, symposia, or round table discussions. And all this over 4 days [programme in pdf format].

While you may not spend a lot of of time learning new material, you are forced to look at things from new angles and applying your thoughts and feelings in new ways.  In other words from a ‘New Perspective’!

You’re exposed to the work of people with very different, though equally valid, research philosophies.You can see how they tackled similar questions but from different perspectives (sometimes wildly different).

Studies in psychology provide and require multiple perspectives to be applied in order to understanding people as individuals and as individuals in a community. Research findings and implications about the mind and mental processes as well as studies of the development and behaviour, maintenance and change of socially significant behaviour are all of importance in understand and explaining (at least in part) the world we live in and how we situate ourselves within it.

p.s. John here, I sat in on some of the presentations and there were a couple of very interesting points. Traditionally the shift change in hospitals has been seen as a vulnerability and has resulted in a culture of long shifts. Some research indicated that safety might actually be improved with more shift changes, since they were more often catching problems than causing them. It was the act of explaining what was going on to someone new, a fresh pair of eyes, that caught these oversights. Equally, they sometimes gave people the impetus to make a decision. For a start up company that’s charging along eyes on the prize, taking time out occasionally to explain that bigger picture to an impartial observer, is a huge benefit.

It was also notable the lack of technology awareness in health care messages and communications. Not just the use of social media but viral gaming, mobile data capture & evaluation, and general webbiness. As I tweeted from the conference (I was in the minority having a mobile data device with me), online avatars working from fixed scripts do not make for very convincing ‘companions’. There is a lot this community could learn from places like the Pervasive Media Studio here in Bristol and the ecosystem around them.

For a technical civil engineering description of the tower and various attempts to ‘straighten’ it check out this page. :)