Justine Tomlinson will never forget when she encountered one patient who had been incorrectly discharged with prescriptions for three different anticoagulants. “How is this even possible?” she asked herself. “Why do things like hospital discharge go wrong with a lot of patients?”
These were the constant questions that drew Justine into pharmacy research.
After qualifying in 2010 and spending six years predominantly in community pharmacy, Justine began a collaborative PhD in 2016 with Leeds Teaching University Hospitals NHS Trust and Bradford University, and says she has not looked back since.
Her research applies qualitative methods to explore patients’ medication safety problems. Justine held an National Institute for Health Research Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) award (2017–2021) and her PhD thesis explored the lived experience of medicines management for older people around hospital discharge.
The main aspect of Justine’s nomination is her determination to put the patient voice at the heart of pharmacy research and to use this voice to inform research design and produce work that is translatable into pharmacy practice.
“As pharmacists, we are natural problem solvers and we go into a research project or clinical problem thinking ‘I want to fix it, I want to know what the solution is, and I think I might know what the solution looks like’ and we often go in with a lot of preconceptions and bias,” she says.
Justine resisted the temptation to think that pharmacists “are always the answer”, instead realising that she had “absolutely no idea” what it is like to be an older person taking multiple medicines and admitted to hospital.
She began by speaking to patients about their experiences of hospital discharge and set up a patient and carer steering group, which participated throughout the entire four-year project. “They were the most fabulous critical friends who, as well as providing insights and guidance that helped drive the research, also became a source of pastoral support who were on the journey with me,” she explains.
“For anyone looking to deepen their public and patient involvement, my advice would be to absolutely do it and to do it from a position of openness and honesty. You don’t have to have all the answers, you don’t have to be the academic, it’s fine to enter the relationship as a person and simply say, ‘This is what I’m trying to do, this is what Im struggling with, what do you think?’”
Justine’s work is having an impact; an example being her development of a toolkit called ‘My Medicines Journey’, which was designed using Experience-based co-design, which brings together patients and healthcare professionals to co-design services.
Justine is also a proactive network builder and has started to take on an increasing number of mentoring roles, now supervising three PhD and two Master’s students.
“Research can be a lonely endeavour, I would strongly advocate finding your network of cheer leaders who will motivate and energise you to keep going” she says, adding that she has created networks and helped set up research cafes at Leeds hospital, where researchers can come together, trouble shoot problems and provide motivation for each other.
Justine advises anyone taking their initial steps into research to “just say yes”.
“Jump onto as many different projects as you can, either as an observer, someone who will do some data analysis, learn a new method, or even as a principle investigator, just jump in and have a go,” she says.
“Very strong application. Research being patient centred and impactful.”
Tomlinson J, Cheong VL, Dylan B et al. Successful care transitions for older people: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of interventions that support medication continuity. Age and Ageing 49 2020(4)558-569. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afaa002
Tomlinson J, Silcock J, Smith H et al. Post-discharge medicines management: the experiences, perceptions and roles of older people and their family carers. Health Expectations 2020;23(6):1603-1613. doi: 10.1111/hex.13145
Tomlinson J, Medlinskiene K, Cheng VL et al. Patient and public involvement in designing and conducting doctoral research: the whys and the hows. Res Involv Engagem 2019;5(23). doi: 10.1186/s40900-019-0155-1
Medlinskiene K, Tomlinson J, Marques I et al. Barriers and facilitators to the uptake of new medicines into clinical practice: a systematic review. BMC Health Serv Res 2021 5;21(1):1198. doi: 10.1186/s12913-021-07196-4