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Talking about sex with prostate cancer patients: How can we improve clinical communication about the sexual side effects of treatment?

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  • Full or part time
    Dr S Speer
    Dr S Peters
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

This project aims to improve understanding of doctor-patient communication about the sexual side effects of prostate cancer (PC) treatment. Research shows that effective communication leads to improved health outcomes.

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence urge doctors to ensure men and their partners receive adequate tailored information about the sexual consequences of PC treatment decisions, and have opportunities to discuss sexual problems. However, our research suggests variability in how well this is achieved in practice, and that doctors inadequately address patients’ sexual information and support needs.

Despite the clear need to enhance communication in PC care, opportunities to do so are currently missed because we lack the necessary evidence base for understanding what is happening in consultations.

The proposed research aims to fill this gap. It will:

(1) Create an evidence base of video-recordings of real consultations in the PC clinic.
(2) Identify the core, communicative practices (vocal and embodied) that doctors and patients use to discuss the sexual side effects of treatment, and the practices that appear to enhance or hinder, open up or close down, that communication.
(3) Identify doctors’ and patients’ views on these different communicative practices, and the factors that facilitate or impede open communication about sexual issues.

The project will involve recording and analysing 70 PC clinic consultations, made at two time-points (when making treatment decisions and six months after treatment). Consultation data will be analysed using conversation analysis. The student will also interview 20 patients and their consultant separately, using clips of their previously recorded consultations to prompt them to discuss their views about the communication. Interview data will be analysed using thematic analysis. Findings from the two data-sets will be integrated in methodologically novel ways to develop theoretical understanding of ‘what counts’ as patient centred communication in talk about sexual functioning.

The successful candidate will benefit from extensive training in conversation and thematic analysis, systematic reviews, health psychology and medical sociology methods. Given the breadth of training provided, the study will support progression into a wide-range of academic or clinical fellowship roles.

For applicants who are suitably qualified (BPS accredited Stage 1 Health Psychology), there is potential that the PhD could form part of requirements for Stage 2 accreditation.

Research will be based within the School of Psychological Sciences, a vibrant and active research community home to over 100 doctoral students. The project will be conducted within the section of Clinical and Health Psychology, incorporating world-leading researchers in the fields of clinical communication, health behaviour change and the development of interventions for psychological distress.

Candidates are expected to hold a minimum upper-second class (or equivalent) undergraduate degree in psychology, sociology, linguistics, communication studies or related area. A relevant Masters degree as well as experience of qualitative methods/conversation analysis would be an advantage.

This 3-year full-time PhD is open to candidates able to provide evidence of self-arranged funding/sponsorship. Annual fee rates for this project, due to commence from July 2016 onwards, are:

*UK/EU nationals: £4, 052
Non-EU nationals: £20, 500

Part-time study over six-years is also possible, with annual part-time fee rates 0.5 of the above full-time equivalent.
Please direct applications in the following format to Dr Susan Speer ([email protected]):

• Academic CV
• Official academic transcripts
• Contact details for two suitable referees
• A personal statement (750 words maximum) outlining your suitability for the study, what you hope to achieve from the PhD and your research experience to date
• Evidence of funding.

Any enquiries relating to the project and/or suitability should be directed to Dr Speer. Applications are invited on an on-going basis but early expression of interest is encouraged.

Funding Notes

*UK/EU tuition fees are subject to an ongoing annual inflationary increase, anticipated to be approximately 2.5% p.a.


Collins, S., Peters, S., & Watt, I. (2010). Medical communication. In J. Simpson (Ed.), Handbook of applied linguistics (pp. 96-110). London: Routledge

Hart, J. & Peters, S. (2011). Healing talk. The Psychologist, 24(12), 894-5

Speer, S. A. (2013). Talking about sex in the gender identity clinic: Implications for training and practice. Health, 17(6), 622-639

Speer, S. A., & McPhillips, R. (2013). Patients’ perspectives on psychiatric consultations in the gender identity clinic: Implications for patient-centered communication. Patient Education & Counseling, 91(3), 385-391

How good is research at University of Manchester in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 67.70

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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