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Jennifer Womack
Jennifer Womack is one of the first PhD students from another country to doctorate at the Department of Health Sciences at Luleå University of Technology. Photo: Sofia Stridsman View original picture , opens in new tab/window

Occupational lens on caregiving

Published: 4 July 2018

Jennifer Womack is one of the first PhD students from another country to doctorate at the Department of Health Sciences at Luleå University of Technology. Her doctoral thesis focuses on exploring caregiving from an occupational perspective as informed by older adult caregivers.

– The findings of the four studies embedded in my overall research aim indicate that caregiving consists of characteristics and responsibilities that are not fully recognized within the healthcare system, and that healthcare providers tend to situate older caregivers as extensions of our work. We focus our energies on the patient, or care recipient, and interact with the caregivers as if they need to continue the same work we are doing, says Jennifer Womack, adding:
– This approach assumes that caregiving is about only one individual and fails to acknowledge the relationship between the caregiver(s) and care recipient(s), as well as the relationships between healthcare providers and the caregiving situation. Based on these findings, I have proposed that an occupational and transactional lens on caregiving would enrich our understanding of it, and particularly for the practice of occupational therapy, challenge us to change our approach. 

What in your research would you say is new knowledge in the field?
– There are two main aspects of the research that are new within our field. First, the research was conducted from the perspective of multiple human beings interacting around a single construct, including one study that considered the viewpoint of a care dyad as opposed to that of an individual. Secondly, the study of caregiver-healthcare provider interactions has not been reported in our profession’s literature to date.

How can your research results be used?
– I concluded my thesis with a proposed model for considering interpersonal relationships as the entry point for interacting with care situations. I believe that operationalizing this model will lead us to new methods of conducting assessment and intervention within our field.

You live in Chapel Hill, United States. How has is worked to write your thesis at Luleå University of Technology?
– It was a great privilege to be able to study at Luleå University of Technology. The Swedish system of higher education at the doctoral level was exactly the right fit for my stage in life and position in my professional career. As an older student, being challenged to submit the research proposal early in the process and conduct four related studies with publications along the way was advantageous in terms of rounding out my academic experience.

How has it worked practically to doctorate at Luleå University of Technology while living in another country?
– Living in one country and studying in another certainly has challenges, but the rewards were greater! Thanks to the availability of communication technologies, we conducted many meetings over Adobe, and I was able to take courses that had both on-site and on-line components. LTU is quite advanced in being able to accommodate students through distance learning. I travelled each semester to Luleå and was able in the fall of 2017 to spend six weeks in residence at LTU, which allowed me to devote time to my research without the responsibilities of my own work in the U.S.

What can you say about the Department of Health Sciences and the Occupational Therapy group?
– First, I should say that everyone in Health and Rehabilitation has warmly welcomed me and helped me to manage the practicalities of everyday life away from home. In the occupational therapy group, I found a second home. Not only do we share common views of our profession, but everyone has also been very hospitable and introduced me to wonderful aspects of northern Swedish life, from fika to arts and music, to the fine art of lingering over a dinner with friends, and of course, to the love of snow and ice. I look forward to continuing research collaborations with my colleagues at LTU. 

Text: Erica Lång