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

Co-Founders

Director: Kirsten McCaffery PhD

Kirsten is a behavioural scientist and a National Health & Medical Research Council (Australia) Principal Research Fellow. She has an international reputation in the areas of health literacy, shared decision making and overdiagnosis research. She is Director of the Sydney Health Literacy Lab, a team of 16 behavioural scientists, and established the Charles Perkins Centre International Health Literacy Research Network with over 200 members worldwide. She leads Psychosocial Research within Wiser Healthcare, an NHMRC funded research collaboration at the Sydney School of Public Health that seeks to understand the causes and consequences of overdiagnosis/overtreatment and develop solutions to this growing global problem. She is an executive member of the ASK-GP Centre for Research Excellence (rapid evidence for GP decisions) and Director of Research within the School of Public Health. She has >220 publications and 11 book chapters, and has been awarded >70 research grants.

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Honorary Associate Professor Jesse Jansen PhD

Jesse Jansen is a behavioural scientist (MA Cognitive Psychology – Cum Laude; PhD Health Psychology) working in public health. She is Assistant Professor, School for Public Health and Primary Care, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences at the University of Maastricht, The Netherlands and Honorary Associate Professor, Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney. She is a member of the NHMRC funded Wiser Healthcare Program (reducing overdiagnosis and overtreatment) and the ASK-GP Centre for Research Excellence (rapid evidence for general practice decisions). She is co-director (Public Health) for the Centre for Medical Psychology and Evidence-based Decision-making (CeMPED), University of Sydney.

The overarching aim of her research is to achieve a better standard of healthcare that is sustainable, patient-centred and driven by evidence. She develops interventions to guide patients, families and health care providers through critical decisions across the lifespan, with a specific focus on shared decision making and health communication. Her research is multi-disciplinary and uses a range of qualitative and quantitative methods (e.g. video-observations, qualitative interviews, focus groups, experimental studies and randomised controlled trials), strongly rooted in behavioural science. She works primarily in the area of ageing, cancer and primary care. Current projects focus on communication and decision making around topics such as appropriate prescribing of medications for older adults, breast cancer screening, contralateral prophylactic mastectomy and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

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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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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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Rachel Thompson PhD

Rachel is a behavioural scientist who was trained in Health Psychology at The University of Queensland, completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Shared Decision-Making at Dartmouth College, and now serves as a Senior Research Fellow in the ‘Ask Share Know’ and ‘Wiser Healthcare’ Centres for Research Excellence at The University of Sydney. Rachel conducts research that seeks to enable all people to access health care that is evidence-based and aligned with their preferences and values. She has particular expertise in the areas of reproductive and perinatal health. Her recent work includes leading a multi-centre cluster randomised trial to evaluate the comparative effectiveness of shared decision-making interventions in contraceptive care and editing the third edition of the book, Shared Decision Making in Health Care: Achieving Evidence-Based Patient Choice (Oxford University Press, 2016).

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Kristie Weir PhD

Kristie was awarded her PhD in June 2020 entitled ‘Communication and decision-making about medicines and deprescribing: perspectives of older adults, their companions, and clinicians’, supervised by Professors Jesse Jansen and Kirsten McCaffery.  Amongst other work, Kristie is now involved in the recently funded ‘Supporting end-of-life conversations through improved communication for shared decision-making‘ project.

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PhD Candidates

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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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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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 SHLL in May 2018 and is a Research Administration Officer. Hilary has over 20 years’ senior level administrative experience at the University of Sydney in pure and applied medical research areas in addition to general tertiary administration in Sydney and London.

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Thomas Dakin

Tom is the Senior Administration Officer for the Sydney Health Literacy Lab (SHLL) 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 is currently studying part-time for his Master of Public Health. He hopes to continue channelling these interests to support the work of the SHLL and Wiser Healthcare as agents of social change.

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Hankiz Dolan PhD

Hankiz joined SHLL 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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Jennifer Isautier

Jennifer joined SHLL 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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