Meet the Lab 2021
Back L-R: Rachael Dodd; Tom Dakin; Rachel Thompson; Carissa Bonner
Third row L-R: Kristen Pickles; Julie Ayre; Sam Cornell; Jolyn Hersch
Second row L-R:  Hankiz DolanHilary Cox; Karen Gainey; Tessa Copp
Front L-R: Danielle Muscat; Kirsten McCaffery; Jenna Smith; Carys Batcup
Absent: Erin Cvejic, Jennifer Isautier, Olivia Mac, Shannon McKinn, Brooke Nickel & Kristie Weir

Co-Founder

Director: Kirsten McCaffery PhD FAHMS

Kirsten is a behavioural scientist and a National Health & Medical Research Council (Australia) Principal Research Fellow.  She has a national and international reputation in shared decision making, health literacy and the assessment of psychosocial outcomes, and has had four successive NHMRC fellowships. She is Director of Research at the Sydney School of Public Health and Director of the Sydney Health Literacy Lab, a group of over 20 researchers and students at the School of Public Health. She is co-founder of Wiser Healthcare – a research collaboration of over 100 researchers across three Australian institutions (Universities of Sydney, Bond and Monash) and Node Leader of the Charles Perkins Centre, Health Literacy Node.  Her research focuses on psychosocial aspects of overdiagnosis and overtesting, health communication among vulnerable populations and behaviour change research.  Her work uses quantitative methods such as randomised trials and experimental studies as well as qualitative research.  Professor McCaffery has received over $42 million in competitive research funding since 2000 and has over 295 publications including papers published in the highest ranked general medical journals including Lancet (3 papers), BMJ (37), JAMA (5), MJA (5).

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Post-doctoral Research Fellows

Julie Ayre PhD

Julie is a behavioural scientist and was recently awarded a PhD in Public Health (awarded June 2020). She has contributed to projects for both the Sydney Health Literacy Lab and the Western Sydney Local Health District’s Health Literacy Hub. Her research has focused on improving type 2 diabetes self-management behaviours for people with low health literacy, eHealth in primary care settings, and adapting behaviour change strategies for people with low health literacy. She was involved in development and validation of the Parenting Plus Skills Index, a new instrument to assess functional, communicative and critical health literacy skills for Australian parents, and played a key role in integrating feedback from stakeholders and consumers into iterative revisions of the Parenting Plus program. Julie has also acted as a health literacy consultant to many groups within and beyond Western Sydney Local Health District. Most notably, this includes work with Western Sydney Diabetes to develop a suite of more than 70 videos on diabetes self-management. Julie also teaches health literacy to students of the Masters of Diabetes Education and Management at the University of Technology Sydney. She is currently is leading the development of an online real-time health literacy editor that will be embedded in Western Sydney Local Health District’s processes for developing patient education materials. Julie has extensive experience in health communication, behaviour change and implementation research and uses both qualitative and quantitative methods. She is passionate about advancing health literacy theory and research, and its translation into Australian health systems.

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Deputy Director: Carissa Bonner PhD

Carissa’s research focusses on cardiovascular disease, primary care, behavioural science, implementation and e-health. Her NHMRC/Heart Foundation fellowship involves developing new online systems to implement general practice guidelines. This will involve linking guidelines to updated evidence summaries, audit and feedback activities and patient decision aids, with a focus on cardiovascular disease prevention. Her work uses mixed methods including:

  • Qualitative (interview, think aloud, content analysis)
  • Quantitative (systematic review, survey, experiment, pre-post piloting, RCT)

Doctors and patients can too easily fall into decision making traps that result in some people missing out on useful medications, while other people end up taking medications that they don’t need. Carissa is a behavioural scientist and her research aims to find the best ways to communicate information about health risks, so that doctors and patients can make informed decisions. Specifically, her interests include risk perception, doctor-patient communication and medical decision making, and you can find me discussing these issues on twitter (@carissa_bon).

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Tessa Copp PhD

Tessa Copp is a postdoctoral research fellow with training in qualitative research and experimental psychology. Her current research focuses on women’s reproductive health, including assisted reproductive technologies, pre-conception healthcare and polycystic ovary syndrome. She is particularly interested in evidence-based healthcare, overdiagnosis and the psychosocial impact of disease labels.

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Erin Cvejic PhD

Erin is a biostatistician and postdoctoral researcher with expertise in experimental psychology and research interests in biopsychosocial predictors of both good and ill health. His doctoral training was complemented by a postdoctoral position in psychoneuroimmunology at UNSW Sydney- during which time he retrained in biostatistics, leading to his current position as a Lecturer in Biostatistics in the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney. Erin consults part-time for SHLL, providing biostatistical advice, mentoring and supervision for honours students, PhD candidates and postdoctoral researchers within the group across the broad range of research topics and projects, with contributions from initial study design through to final analysis.

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Rachael Dodd PhD

Rachael is a postdoctoral research fellow with expertise in communicating about HPV and its relationship to both head and neck cancer and cervical cancer. Rachael is interested in how we can communicate about changes to screening programs to the public without undermining confidence. Rachael’s current studies involve qualitative work with women and health professionals about the changes to the Australian National Cervical Screening Program. Rachael will also conduct experimental studies examining how to communicate about screening programs and women’s preferences for treatment of cervical abnormalities.

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Jolyn Hersch PhD

Jolyn is a postdoctoral researcher with expertise in communicating about overdiagnosis, particularly in breast cancer screening, and in the development and evaluation of decision support tools. Her training spanned cognitive and health psychology through to public health. Jolyn is interested in improving how we communicate about the issues of overdiagnosis and overtreatment to the public. Currently her main studies include a longitudinal randomised controlled trial of a decision aid about breast cancer screening, and a qualitative study exploring views about management of low-risk ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) among older women.

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Danielle Muscat PhD

Danielle Muscat is a Westmead Fellow and Westmead Lead of the Sydney Health Literacy Lab. Danielle’s work is focused on improving health literacy among socially disadvantaged groups to empower them to be active participants in decisions about their health. Her doctoral work involved the development and evaluation of a world-first health literacy program for Australian adults attending adult basic literacy courses at TAFE across NSW. Danielle has continued this work in her post-doctoral role. She currently leads a project to standardise the delivery of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) patient education programs to enable informed choice and shared decision-making in planning care pathways among haemodialysis patients with lower health literacy and/or from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. She is also coordinating a parental health literacy program designed to improve health literacy and health outcomes for parents and babies in the diverse communities of western Sydney.

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Brooke Nickel PhD

Brooke Nickel is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow interested in understanding the psychosocial aspects of cancer diagnosis and treatment, with a specific area of interest in examining how different terminologies or labels for low risk cancers impact experiences of diagnosis, treatment decision making and psychological outcomes. Her research currently focuses on thyroid cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and prostate cancer and includes qualitative research (interviews, focus groups and content analyses), quantitative survey and Discrete-Choice Experiment (DCE) research, and systematic reviews.

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Shannon McKinn PhD

Shannon McKinn is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and an experienced qualitative researcher, in the Sydney School of Public Health. Her PhD research focused on community health literacy and communication in the maternal health setting in Dien Bien Province, Vietnam. She is also working on studies exploring overdiagnosis and prenatal testing. She has a passion for global health, and research that address health inequities. Shannon has a Bachelor of International Studies from UNSW and a Master of International Public Health from the University of Sydney. She has worked as a research assistant in the Sydney School of Public Health since 2011, and has taught in the MIPH program since 2015.

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Kristen Pickles PhD

Kristen Pickles is a postdoctoral researcher with the Wiser Healthcare research collaboration at the Sydney School of Public Health. Her research focus is prostate cancer screening, including doctor-patient-public communication, overdiagnosis, uncertainty, and informed decision making. Kristen has training in public health and psychology and expertise in qualitative research methods (grounded theory), quantitative survey design, and systematic review. Her current projects include a randomised trial evaluating two patient decision aids to support informed choice about PSA screening and a qualitative pilot study evaluating the implementation of a decision aid for women with early-stage breast cancer considering contralateral prophylactic mastectomy.

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PhD & MPhil Candidates

Karen Gainey

Karen completed a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutrition & Dietetics) in 1994 from the University of Newcastle.  After working for over 20 years in in the food, public health service and medical device industries, she has commenced a PhD in the Sydney School of Public Health under the supervision of Professor Kirsten McCaffery, Associate Professor Steven Kamper and Dr Danielle Muscat.

Her PhD is focused on exploring opportunities to improve the capacity of lay summaries as a communication tool and a means of involving consumers in health research. Karen hopes to put her PhD to work helping dispel misinformation and improve global health literacy.

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Olivia Mac

Olivia is a current MPhil student at the University of Sydney, School of Public Health under the supervision of Prof Kirsten McCaffery, Dr Danielle Muscat and Dr Julie Ayre. Her research involves evaluating the health literacy demands of health information in the context of coronavirus using various methods, including consumer evaluation with people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Since completing her Master of Public Health in 2018, Olivia has worked as a research assistant within the School of Public Health and has been involved in several projects across health literacy, shared decision-making and the translation of evidence into practice.

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Judith Parnham

Judith is a proud  Angkamuthi (Northern Cape York) and Erub (Eastern Torres Strait Islands) woman of Far North Queensland and has been an Indigenous Health Worker for over 17 years working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and health professionals throughout Queensland and Australia.  In July 2021 Judith commenced a Master of Philosophy at the University of Sydney, supervised by Dr Carissa Bonner, and has based her thesis on Shared Decision Making for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their health journey of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), the resources that are used to screen CVD and how best to utilise and incorporate Indigenous Health Workers to get the most effective outcomes and usage of such resources.

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Pinika Patel

Pinika is a current PhD student at the University of Sydney School of Public Health under the supervision of Prof Lyndal Trevena, Dr Sarah Bernays and Dr Danielle Muscat. Her research looks at developing improved methods to facilitate active patient involvement and communication for refugees/asylum seekers in a primary health care setting.

Pinika has a background in Medical Science and completed her Masters of Public Health in 2016 at the University of Sydney. Since that time, she has worked as a research assistant with the NHMRC funded Centre for Research Excellence, Ask, Share, Know: Rapid Evidence for General Practice Decisions where she has helped to conduct rapid reviews of the evidence and create resources for general practice.

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Sumathy Ravi

Sumathy Ravi has been working with Western Sydney Diabetes (WSD) for over 10 years providing program and business management in implementing WSD strategy.  She has been involved in a number of successful projects on diabetes prevalence, high risk foot services and building capacity in the community for better management of diabetes. She completed a Masters in Biochemistry and Master of Philosophy in Cardiac Sciences in 1994 in India.

Sumathy has commenced a PhD in the Sydney School of Public Health under the supervision of Dr Carissa Bonner, Professor Kirsten McCaffery, Dr Julie Ayre and Professor Glen Maberly, Director, Western Sydney Diabetes. Her PhD is a qualitative study exploring the effectiveness of virtual care in diabetes management with a focus on patients and health providers’ experience, benefits and behavioural changes.

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Jenna Smith

Jenna is a PhD candidate in the Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney. She completed her Honours in Psychology in the Lab in 2018 under the supervision of Associate Professor Jesse Jansen, with a particular interest in cancer screening in older adults. Jenna commenced her PhD in March 2020 to continue her studies in this area under the supervision of Professor Kirsten McCaffery, Associate Professor Jesse Jansen, Dr Rachael Dodd, Dr Erin Cvejic, and Professor Vasi Naganathan. Many older people (aged 75+) who are frail, have multiple comorbidities and limited life expectancy, continue to be screened for cancer, despite international guidelines suggesting they should not. The aim of Jenna’s PhD is to investigate psychological strategies to support older adults to make informed cancer screening decisions.

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Marguerite Tracy

Marguerite Tracy is a senior lecturer with Sydney School of Public Health and PhD candidate with a twenty year background in general practice. Her current clinical work is at the Centre for Addiction Medicine at Mount Druitt Hospital. Her interests are in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health, addiction medicine, medical education and person-centred health care. Working with Professor Lyndal Trevena and Dr Heather Shepherd Marguerite is investigating tools designed to facilitate patient question asking as part of shared decision making. Marguerite is also a member of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Expert Committee – Quality Care.

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Research/Administration Officers

Carys Batcup

After completing an MSc in Behaviour Change at University College London in 2019, Carys moved to Sydney.  She is now a Research Assistant, working with Carissa Bonner, utilising behaviour change techniques in digital health interventions.  Specifically, Carys is assisting in research projects which aim to improve shared decision making practices between GPs and their patients in relation to cardiovascular health.

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Sk Masum Billah

Sk Masum Billah joined the SHeLL team in August 2021 as the Trial Coordinator for the Parenting+ project, led by Dr Danielle Muscat.  He is a PhD candidate in the Sydney School of Public Health under the supervision of Professor Michael J Dibley and Associate Professors Camille Raynes-Greenow and Patrick Kelly.

Massum is an experienced researcher with a focus on improving coverage and quality of maternal and child health and nutrition interventions. In the past 15 years, he has led several randomised controlled trials, implementation research, and program evaluations in developing country settings. He is trained in public health and has expertise in study design, quantitative research methods, and analysis techniques.  He has taught Master of Public Health courses in several universities and is a co-chair of the WHO-UNICEF’s Child Health Accountability Tracking Advisory group (CHAT).

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Sam Cornell

Sam completed a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Physiological Science at the University of Bristol in 2017 and then a Master of Science by Research in 2019 which involved investigating a novel ‘Lifestyle Change Prescription’ (LRx) in Wales, UK. Following a subsequent move to sunnier climes, he aims to continue pursuing his research interests in Public Health and Behaviour Change and is currently involved in a research study with Dr Carissa Bonner, CHAT-GP, which is investigating the implementation of an absolute cardiovascular disease risk assessment tool for use in Primary Care.

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Hilary Cox

Hilary joined SHeLL in May 2018 as a Research Administration Officer. Hilary has over 25 years’ senior level administrative experience at the University of Sydney in pure and applied medical research areas in addition to general tertiary administration in both Sydney and London, UK.

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Thomas Dakin

Tom is the Senior Administration Officer for the Sydney Health Literacy Lab (SHeLL) and Wiser Healthcare (Sydney). He has worked at the University of Sydney since 2015, and prior to that spent ten years working in medical administration, his last position managing a busy multidisciplinary practice in London.

Passionate about public health, social justice, and the power of narratives to bring about meaningful change, Tom has a Master of Film Studies and Master of Public Health. He hopes to continue channelling these interests to support the work of the SHeLL and Wiser Healthcare as agents of social change.

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Hankiz Dolan PhD

Hankiz joined SHeLL as a Research Assistant in May 2020 having recently submitted her thesis entitled ‘Exploring the opportunities and challenges to adapt existing shared decision-making strategies and tools in contraceptive counselling for Chinese migrant women living in Australia’ for examination for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney, which has been awarded. Her research explored the challenge and opportunities to adapt existing shared decision-making strategies and tools in contraceptive counselling for Chinese migrant women living in Australia.  She also has a Bachelor of Medicine degree and a Master of Arts degree.

Hankiz is experienced in conducting qualitative interview studies, quantitative data analysis and systematic reviews and is currently involved in the breast density project with Dr Brooke Nickel, which explores community and clinician views on issues surrounding breast density notification. She has recently become a member of the Harmony Alliance, which is an advocacy organisation that aims to advance migrant and refugee women’s participation in domestic and international policy decision-making and has recently started working with the Agency for Clinical Innovation (ACI), reviewing evidence on COVID-19 related topics.

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Natasha Freeman

Natasha studied undergraduate medicine at UNSW on their campuses in Sydney and Albury/Wodonga and completed her internship in Alice Springs. She then spent a few years at various teaching hospitals which included 12 months of training in Paediatrics and Obstetrics and Gynaecology. After briefly considering Psychiatry, Natasha chose GP as a specialty because of the continuity of care and the relationships it brings.  After achieving her Fellowship at the beginning of 2021 she returned to the Central West to locum at a rural practice and also started work at the state vaccination hubs, assisting with the daily vaccination rollout.  Natasha is working on research projects with Dr Carissa Bonner.

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Jennifer Isautier

Jennifer joined SHeLL in February 2020 as Trial Coordinator for the SUCCESS project working with Dr Danielle Muscat and Professor Angela Webster.

For the previous five years Jennifer worked as a Research Technologist in the Division of Cardiovascular diseases, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, USA.  She has an educational background in nutrition and dietetics and exercise science which are well-suited to the SUCCESS project which will develop and evaluate an intervention to support patients to engage in shared decision-making and self-management behaviours (including healthy eating; exercise; fluid intake).

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Raveena Kapoor

Raveena completed a Bachelor of Applied Science (Exercise Physiology) in 2018, followed by a Master of Global Health in 2020, both from the University of Sydney. She is passionate about improving mental health and psychosocial support interventions for vulnerable people in Australia and in disaster and humanitarian crises. She is now working as a Research Assistant with SHeLL looking at improving health literacy of culturally and linguistically diverse populations in Western Sydney and looking at the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of these populations alongside Dr Danielle Muscat, Dr Julie Ayre, and Professor Kirsten McCaffery. She is also passionate about human rights and social justice issues globally and has a keen interest in writing, dancing, and travelling.

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Sweekriti Sharma PhD

Sweekriti Sharma was recently awarded a PhD from the Institute for Musculoskeletal Health, the University of Sydney, supervised by Dr Adrian Traeger and Prof Chris Maher. Her PhD research focused on investigating why overdiagnosis happens in low back pain and examining ways to reduce the problem. She has a Bachelor of Public Health from Nepal and a Master of Public Health from UNSW.  Swee is working with Dr Danielle Muscat as a Research Assistant for the Stillbirth Health Literacy project in western Sydney.

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Affiliates

Jesse Jansen PhD – School for Public Health and Primary Care, Maastricht University, The Netherlands

Associate Professor Jesse Jansen was a Co-founder of SHeLL and is an Honorary Associate Professor, Sydney School of Public Health.  The overarching aim of her research is to achieve a better standard of healthcare that is sustainable, patient-centred and driven by evidence. She aims to accomplish this by increasing understanding of the potential benefits and harms of medical tests and treatments from the patient’s perspective, improving communication of medical information to patients and health care professionals, and developing strategies to support (shared) decision making.

Jesse has a background in cognitive and health psychology and her research is multidisciplinary. She uses a range of qualitative and quantitative methods such as video-observations, qualitative interviews, focus groups, experimental studies and RCTs. Jesse works primarily in the area of primary care and oncology, with a focus on vulnerable patient groups such as older patients with multimorbidity and polypharmacy, and patients with lower health literacy. She has published papers in BMJ, Lancet and JAMA internal medicine, her work has been supported by two subsequent fellowships for the Australian National Health and Medical Research council (equivalent to the Dutch NWO Veni and Vidi fellowships).

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Rachel Thompson PhD – Senior Lecturer, School of Health Sciences, University of Sydney

Dr Rachel Thompson is a behavioural scientist with training in health psychology and shared decision-making and a Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Behavioural and Social Sciences in Health, Sydney School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health.

Rachel conducts perinatal and reproductive health research that seeks to enable all people to access health care that is evidence-based and aligned with their preferences and values. She is a member of the Wiser Healthcare research collaboration and affiliated with the Sydney Health Literacy Lab.

Rachel also teaches HSBH3005 Evidence Based Health Care and mentors and supervises people conducting behavioural science and health services research in a range of areas.

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Kristie Weir PhD – Postgraduate Fellow, University of Bern, Switzerland

Dr Kristie Weir has been awarded a prestigious Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship, fully funded, at The University of Bern, Switzerland (12-months beginning September 2021).  She will be working with Professor Sven Streit and Dr Katharina Jungo on the LESS Study, a multinational European survey study which will be conducted in 12 countries. The survey is on older adults’ attitudes towards deprescribing.  Kristie remains a research affiliate of the Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney.

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