New professor researches for everyone's right to health

About Annelie Sundler
Likes to do in her free time: Ride and spend time with my family and our horses
Hidden talent: My daughters would say cooking and baking
Dream guests at a fictitious dinner: Hans Rosling and Linnea Henriksson
Film tips: Amélie from Montmartre – a wonderful story
Reads: Most research articles, but happily a good book when I have time
My most-used app: Podcasts and public transportation schedules
What makes me angry: Injustices
What makes me happy: My family
My top tip in general: Enjoy life!

She had never thought she would go into research. But one evening at her supervisor's home when they discussed her Master's thesis, it came up.

“She sowed a seed. I've always been a curious and driven person. And a few years later, I became a doctoral student, at what was then called Växjö University (Editor’s note: now Linnaeus University),“ she says.

She wrote her Master's thesis at the University of Borås and now she is a new professor here. Annelie Sundler is being photographed to mark the occasion.  The photographs are being taken at the University Library because of the very good photo light in the stairwell there. Afterwards, we sit down at a table among bookshelves and students.

She tells about how she was a cardiac intensive care nurse with heart-lung transplant patients when she started as a doctoral student.

"In my work, I was very interested in my patients and their lives. I saw that there was much more going on than just what happened during the hospital stay. And many questions were about life and death," she explains.

The thesis was about life after a heart attack. The women she interviewed showed a lot of anxiety, worry, and fear. They lived with this for years afterwards and they created strategies for how they would cope if they had a heart attack again.

Annelie Sundler tells of a woman who had quite recently suffered a heart attack. After an X-ray, she was told that her vessels were too fragile for a certain type of surgery.

"She was so scared after that; she didn't dare sneeze because she was afraid that her heart would burst. But that's not at all what the nurse had meant. Yet it had tremendous consequences for this woman. Anxiety and worry can be alleviated in a caring dialogue. But then existential questions need to be asked and listened to," she explains.

Communication in elderly care

After she received her doctorate, she started working at the University of Skövde. She was asked to work to gain back the degree-awarding powers they had lost.   

"I worked on this for a few years. It was very interesting and very different in comparison to doctoral education. But I moved further away from research. So when they retained their degree-awarding powers, I wanted to find my way back," she says.

She began a post doc position at Mälardalen University and became involved a really exciting project.

"It was about communication with those elderly who are cared for at home. It was a large international project that was run from Norway. We still publish articles from that project and I supervise a doctoral student who is creating a training intervention based on it. “

The project was called "Person-centred communication with elderly caretakers (PC-COM). She tells us how it has given her many opportunities for collaboration and networking, internationally as well.

After two years, she started working at the University of Borås as an Associate Professor.

Children who are mistreated

She explains that the common thread in her research has been to pay attention to those in vulnerable positions.

"I am driven to find the weak links in health care – in order to be able to contribute to improvements.”

She recently published a study on school nurses' concerns about children who are mistreated. This is an area in which statistics are lacking at a national level. More than half of the 233 school nurses who participated in the survey responded that they had made one or more reports to social services in the past year.

Contact with children who are mistreated is therefore everyday life for most school nurses, says Annelie Sundler. In the results, she found a difference in how the school nurses acted depending on what children said. When children told them that they were being hurt, mentally or physically, or were victims of honour violence, the school nurses basically always made a report to social services. But in the 33 cases in which school nurses had been told by children that they had experienced sexual abuse, a report was made in only 19 of the cases.

“The question is, why is that? Are the school nurses afraid that the child will be harmed even more if there is a report to social services, or do they think that a complaint will not make a difference? Or don't they believe the child? More research is needed here," says Annelie Sundler.

Passionate about the right to health

Another group that today has difficulty in getting the help they need are adults and children with mental illness. In a new research report, Annelie Sundler shows that people with mental illness have difficulty accessing health care. The right to health is restricted when health care services are inadequate or lacking.

"When we analysed reports of complaints, it became clear that lack of health care services can have far-reaching consequences; it can both worsen the person's mental health and lead to major limitations in everyday life," she says.

"In order for health care services to be accessible to all, adaptations are needed based on different patients' abilities, conditions, and functional variations, especially for patients with mental illness. This also applies to children and young people with poor mental health where measures are needed to protect and respect their right to health and development. “

Has studied learning

In addition to these projects, she has also conducted pedagogical research in which she has studied pedagogical work methods for the educational programmes and learning environments in clinical training for nursing students.

"The supervisor is very, very important when students are undergoing clinical training.  For the specialist programmes, it does not matter how many supervisors the student has or who they are; it only matters that they receive supervision. But in undergraduate educational programmes, it is really important to have as few as possible and have safe environments in order to dare to learn.”

She has also studied the Clinical Training Centre, which is an environment at the university where students can simulate events in health care.

"I have seen that simulation in this centre can never replace clinical training, but it is very good in preparation. There, students feel more secure in training in this safe environment where nobody is put at risk. It is not possible to learn a profession only through teaching; rather, different working methods and different learning environments are needed. Here in Borås we also work a lot with reflection," she explains.

Annelie Sundler says that she is a researcher in order to make a difference to help create knowledge about challenges in health care.

"There is a tendency to short-term thinking today that is not good. The right to health is restricted when someone does not have access to health care and this can have very significant consequences.”

Read more

Annelie Sundler's research profile

Text: Anna Kjellsson
Photo: Suss Wilén
Translation: Eva Medin