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Collaboratively developing person-centred emergency healthcare for people with intellectual disability

   School of Health and Social Care

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  Dr Natasha Spassiani, Dr Jennifer Murray  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Rationale. People with intellectual disabilities (ID) utilize ambulance and emergency department services more than people without ID (Spassiani et al., 2020; Blaskowitz et al., 2019) due to increased polypharmacy, mental health needs, and multiple chronic conditions (Blaskowitz et al., 2019; Lunsky & Balogh, 2010). However, when accessing these services, people with ID experience stigma and lack of support from ambulance, policing, and health care professionals (Spassiani et al., 2017). This infringes on the rights of people with disabilities to access healthcare that is without discrimination and to the same standard as people without disabilities (United Nations, 2006).

Methodology. This study will use participatory action research (PAR) to ensure the active participation of key stakeholders to aid in the generation and dissemination of evidence-based knowledge that directly reflects the needs of people with ID and emergency healthcare professionals (Heffron et al., 2018; Spassiani et al., 2015). The study will seek to:

  (a) understand the perceptions of people with ID living in communities when accessing emergency services and of ambulance clinicians providing emergency healthcare for people with ID and

  (b) identify key points of change (e.g., training on providing identity affirming care for people with ID; supporting access to community resources to reduce the need for emergency services use).

Aim. Collaboratively develop evidence-informed emergency care processes that support the needs of emergency healthcare professionals and people with ID.

This research builds on the combined research expertise of the three supervisors, i.e., Spassiani (emergency services, people with ID, PAR), Murray (decision-making, first responders, mental health), and Sterman (neurodiversity affirming care, emergency preparedness, person-centered care), and compliments strategic research priorities within Edinburgh Napier University’s School of Health and Social Care, aligning to the Centre for Mental Health Practice Policy and Law Research.


Academic qualifications

A first degree (at least a 2.1) ideally in an area related to Psychology, Social Sciences, or Health and Social Care professions with a good fundamental knowledge of intellectual disability, neurodiversity, emergency healthcare, and/or participatory action research. Experience or knowledge around interprofessional research or working would be desirable.


English language requirement

IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.0 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University’s policy are available online.


Essential attributes:

·        Experience of fundamental research skills, ideally in participatory action research approaches and/or qualitative approaches. The candidate should have experience of designing, carrying out and leading a research project to completion on a related topic.

·        Competent in basic qualitative research methods skills, e.g., recruitment, working with others, interviewing, facilitating discussion in groups.

·        Knowledge of intellectual disability, neurodiversity, emergency healthcare, and/or participatory action research. Knowledge of interprofessional working would be a desirable.

·        Good written and oral communication skills

·        Strong motivation, with evidence of independent research skills relevant to the project

·        Good time management

Desirable attributes:

A postgraduate qualification in a related subject. Experience of conducting research within an interdisciplinary team. Experience of participatory action research.


To apply, please click on the ‘Institution Website’ link on the right-hand side of this page

When applying, please quote the application reference SHSC0039 on your form.


·        Completed application form 

·        CV

·  Brief proposal (2 pages maximum) with the following headings: Background, Research Questions, Method and anticipated Outcomes of the project

·        2 academic references, using the Postgraduate Educational Reference Form (Found on the application process page)

·        A personal research statement (This should include (a) a brief description of your relevant experience and skills, (b) an indication of

·        What you would uniquely bring to the project and (c) a statement of how this project fits with your future direction.)

·        Evidence of proficiency in English (if appropriate)


Funding Notes

These studentships are also offered on a part-time basis. Part time UK students will be funded pro-rata


Blaskowitz, M. G., Hernandez, B., & Scott, P. W. (2019). Predictors of emergency room and hospital utilization among adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Intellectual and developmental disabilities, 57(2), 127-145.
Heffron, J., Spassiani, N.A., Angell, A.M., Hammel, J. (2018). Using photovoice as a participatory method to identify and strategize community participation with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 1-14.
Spassiani, N., Abou Chacra, M. S., & Lunsky, Y. (2017). “Why Are You Here? Can’t You Cope at Home?” The psychiatric crisis of people with intellectual disabilities and the community’s response. Journal of Mental Health Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 10(2), 74-92.
Spassiani, N.A., Chacra, M.S.A., Lunsky Y., Durbin, J., & Selick, A. (2020). Emergency department nurses’ knowledge, skills, and comfort related to caring for patients with intellectual disabilities. International Emergency Nursing, 100851.
Spassiani, N. A., Parker Harris, S., & Hammel, J. (2015). Exploring how knowledge translation can improve sustainability of community-based health initiatives for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities. DOI: 10.1111/jar.12202.
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