Each month, the Library highlights the work of one of our remarkable researchers. In November, we have the pleasure of profiling Melissa Bloomer, Professor in Critical Care Nursing, a joint appointment between Griffith University and Princess Alexandra Hospital Intensive Care Unit. Read about her dedication to adult end-of-life care in acute and critical care environments, and what has inspired her research.
What path led you to becoming a researcher?
Being a researcher was never in my plan! I was working as a registered nurse in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Caring for critically ill people was cognitively challenging work. But one of the hardest parts for me was caring for those that were dying; not just because they were dying, but because I witnessed significant suffering while time was spent waiting for formal decisions to be made to change the focus of care to comfort. In our society, like many others, dying and death and not simply a biological process. Rather, dying and death are social, spiritual and cultural processes that take place within settings and systems designed to prevent death.
I was very aware of what was good about how we cared for dying people, but also what was wrong with it. Ensuring comfort and dignity in death and supporting the patient and family in a culturally meaningful way was often superseded by a greater momentum toward continuing futile interventions to prevent death. As much as I tried to do the best I could every shift for one patient and their family, it never seemed enough. Then a senior colleague suggested that perhaps I could use research to fulfill my passion for improving end-of-life care, so that is what I did!
Can you tell us a bit about the projects you are currently working on?
I have a joint appointment between Griffith University and the Intensive Care Unit at Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane. I am also the national Chair of the End-of-Life Advisory Panel for the Australian College of Critical Care Nurses. This means I get to lead and work with diverse teams across a number of research projects.
Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) became legal in Queensland on 1 January 2023. VAD is often the topic of hearty debate, linked to peoples’ professional and personal views on life and death. Across the ICU workforce there are assumptions that VAD would never be seen in an ICU; yet this assumption is short-sighted. Hence, my research attempts to explore the nexus between ICU clinicians’ perceptions about life-saving, supporting a dying person’s choice to end their life and what this means for the ICU context. This has also led to another piece of work exploring how people from diverse cultures, ethnicities and religious beliefs view VAD; which I expect will have important implications for public health messaging.
My interest in cultural diversity and addressing vulnerability for the critically ill has also led to research comparing outcomes for patients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who deteriorate in hospital and receive emergency interventions. We are exploring how language barriers between the patient and family and clinicians may impede communication and decision-making, prolong hospital length-of-stay or negatively impact the person’s autonomy and satisfaction with care.
What sparked your passion for this research area?
It sounds cliché, but nursing is about caring, and not limited to physical care tasks. Caring has to be holistic and meaningful. When it comes to caring for someone who is dying, it is the last opportunity to demonstrate respect for another human being. If my research can inform practice and improve the care provided to a dying person, then my research has been worth it.
Do you have any advice for researchers just starting out?
I think the most useful advice I can give is to find what you are most passionate about and stick with it. Do what excites you. Do what inspires you. Research is a long game, so drawing upon that excitement and passion is key to sustaining you. In the very early days of my research career, I was struck by a quote from Sophocles (495 B.C.-406 B.C.) which has really sustained my passion:
‘Death is not the worst evil, but rather when we wish to and cannot.’