This month we feature Professor Brigid Gillespie who is Deputy Director of The NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Wiser Wound Care within Menzies Health Institute Queensland. Professor Brigid Gillespie loved her time as an operating room nurse. But even in the early days, she could see that there were challenges in clinical practice — practises that were not always based on good research evidence.

“I really enjoyed my work, but I could see in a lot of things that we did in the operating room that I couldn’t really see a great deal of evidence for,” she explains.

Professor Brigid Gillespie

This started her on the path to an honours degree and work on helping people understand what doctors and nurses do in the operating room. In turn, she began to investigate how to improve communication in the operating room and foster better outcomes for patients and doctors alike.

Brigid completed her honours degree and then a Griffith University PhD, all the while investigating communication between practitioners and patients in the operating rooms. During a fellowship program, she also became interested in examining post-operative care and preventing surgical wounds.

Today, working in the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Wiser Wound Care, her vision is focused on improving the safety, quality, and experience of surgical care for patients and their families in Australian hospitals. She does this by generating high-quality research evidence to reduce unwarranted clinical variation and promote best practices.

She says there are usually two types of patients that the medical system hasn’t catered for as much as it could have.

“There are those patients that like to be involved in everything and ask lots of questions and really challenge healthcare professionals and say, ‘I’m not leaving this up to you—this is about my treatment and what’s happening to me.’

“And then there are those patients who say, ‘Oh, I trust the doctor, I trust the nurses’, and don’t want to know much and leave all decisions up to the health professionals. I think healthcare professionals—perhaps in the busyness of their daily clinical area—don’t realise how much some patients want to participate in their care. That has been really good for us to understand to what extent people want to get involved.”
She’s determined to bring the consumer voice into both the clinical side of her job and her research. From the perspective of Wiser Wound Care CRE, her focus is trying to prevent hospital-acquired complications, avoiding infections of wounds, and preventing people from getting pressure injuries.

To increase the relevance of the research to consumers in this area, Brigid invites consumers to be part of the research team to ensure that the research and its outcomes are relevant to them in the intervention and implementation co-design stages.
Brigid’s current work also focuses on developing interventions promoting hospitalised patients’ ability to participate in their care. These interventions are aimed at increasing patients’ understanding of health and healthcare to ensure they are better prepared for hospital discharge and able to participate in their postoperative self-care.

The impact of Brigid’s work has already been far-reaching. So far, she has collaborated with international teams of researchers from the US, the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, and Australia. Brigid’s research in surgical safety in the operating room has focussed on co-developing interventions to improve communication processes used by multidisciplinary teams in surgery. These interventions include a team training program and an intervention to increase staff engagement in using the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist. Both interventions have been adopted as part of clinical practice.
The team training program is used as an educational tool in the Transition to a Perioperative Practice Program. The program, which focuses on increasing team engagement in using the Surgical Safety Checklist, has been more widely implemented and subsequently incorporated into hospital policy.

The scale that Brigid developed—the Perceived Perioperative Competence Scale-Revised—is the most widely used in its field. It has been translated into eight languages and is used by credentialing bodies such as The Competency and Credentialing Institute (US) as part of their certification of operating room nurses. The scale has also been used by researchers in the United Kingdom, Turkey, China, Taiwan, Sweden, and the US, as well as by perioperative nurse educators around Australia as part of induction and ongoing education programs.

It sounds like Brigid is extremely busy in her dual areas of expertise, but she does find time to rest and recharge. “I actually think a work-life balance is really important,” she explains. “I love taking time out to listen to music, walk, go shopping for some retail therapy, go out, visit my family.”