This summer I have worked under the mentorship of Dr. Salimah H. Meghani, in Penn’s Nursing School, on a mixed-methods study centered around cancer pain management. In short, the objective of this PURM project was to problem-solve. That is, to identify the illness and pain management issues facing cancer outpatients during the treatment process, and subsequently present intervention ideas to improve their care experience.
To describe how this was achieved, I will rewind to an earlier point within the study. Before my PURM project began, in-depth, descriptive, individual interviews with 32 patients and 6 family members were recorded and transcribed, and the relevant quotations selected for coding. Said codes specifically pertained to the cancer pain management experience and functioned to group different quotes under various umbrella themes.
Using this qualitative data, it was my job to assess and document my analytic observations and interpretations into two detailed, illustrative results syntheses on: 1) patients’ cancer pain experiences, and 2) patients’ usage patterns of opioid pain medication.
This summary effectively exposed both numerous gaps in patients’ cancer care, and issues with the pain management experience. After identifying these intervention opportunities, the next direction for my project was to generate responsive, actionable solutions and record them in one of two intervention analyses dependent upon the solution type. For example, on the one hand there were the technology-based interventions to improve supportive cancer care access and navigation, and on the other, interventions that used patient-generated concerns and ideas to improve experience of cancer care. These intervention proposals were targeted towards not only patients and their family members, but also health organizations, and providers of clinical, supportive, and palliative care resources within the community.
Reflecting on my skillset, I have developed abilities such as solution-oriented thinking, observational writing, close proof-reading, self-assessment, and interpretational skills. From the side of personal growth, it has been a privilege to have had the opportunity to read and reflect on the heartrending accounts of those interviewed and finally see what it is like to live a life with cancer.
This has been an incredibly eye-opening and fulfilling research experience. Especially considering that upon applying to Penn, my initial academic aspirations were to 1) become a biology major and 2) get involved in a cancer-related research project. After deciding to shift to the health and societies major, I thought I would likewise have to alter my research intentions. That was until I joined this PURM project with Dr. Meghani. It was clear from the outset that this research on cancer pain was intending to go further than just gathering first-hand evidence of the obstacles facing cancer patients. We not only identified the problems but most importantly, we suggested ways to improve and solve them through workable interventions.
Ultimately, being a part of the “beneath-the-surface” workings and processes that convert proposals for positive change into a reality, for me, has been one of the most rewarding aspects to this project and my educational experience at Penn so far.