School of Sociology and Social Policy
  
 

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Alison Pilnick

Professor of Language, Medicine and Society, Faculty of Social Sciences

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Biography

I first came to the University of Nottingham as a pharmacy undergraduate in 1988, and after a spell working as a hospital pharmacist at the University Hospital, returned to the University to undertake postgraduate studies in the School of Sociology and Social Policy. I have been a lecturer in Sociology since 1998.

My research interests lie primarily in the field of the sociology of health and illness, with a particular interest in interactions between health and social care professionals and their patients or clients. I have worked with a wide range of health professionals in a wide range of care settings both in the UK and overseas, using audio and video recordings to examine interactions and to inform and develop communication skills training. This is linked to a broader interest in the use of qualitative methods in sociological research.

From 2000-2006 I was a co-editor of the journal Sociology of Health and Illness. Since 2006 I have been an advisory editor for the journal Social Science and Medicine. I served on the BSA Medical Sociology Group Committee from 1997-2001, and from 2012-2016 was a member of the American Sociological Association (Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis Section) Committee. In 2015 I was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in recognition of my research in healthcare.

From 2015-19 I was Director of the Nottingham ESRC Doctoral Training Centre. Prior to that, from 2011-2015 I was Head of Training for the DTC, responsible for the day to day academic running and for managing our overall research training provision. From 2016-19 I was also the Deputy Director of the ESRC Midlands Graduate School Doctoral Training Partnership, a collaboration between 6 Midlands universities led by the University of Warwick.

In January 2020 I was awarded a place on the Academy of Medical Science's FLIER (Future Leaders in Innovation, Enterprise and Research) programme, becoming the first sociologist to participate. The programme enables researchers to create collaborations across academia, industry, the NHS and government to enhance innovation. In October 2020 I will begin a British Academy Senior Research Fellowship, working on a project entitled 'Between autonomy and abandonment: reconsidering patient-centred care'.

My recent teaching has mostly been research methods focused, related to the DTC/P. This includes DTC modules on Qualitative Research Methods, and Analysing Verbal and Visual Interaction. In 2012 I was the recipient of a Lord Dearing Award for teaching excellence.

I have considerable experience of PhD supervision, having successfully supervised over 25 PhD students to date. A number of these projects were interdisciplinary, working with colleagues from the Medical School, School of Veterinary Science, School of Law and the Business School amongst others. Student topics have included goal setting in physiotherapist/patient interaction, the nature of collaborative work in operating theatres, decision-making by women at risk of hereditary breast cancer, risk communication in genetic counselling, advice giving in obesity clinics and the process of obtaining informed consent to surgery. I particularly welcome applications from PhD students interested in interaction in healthcare related fields.

orcid.org/0000-0003-0987-8760

Teaching Summary

Though I have taught across a range of areas, including social theory, philosophy of social science, and medical sociology, my current teaching is mostly research methods focused and linked to the… read more

Research Summary

My research uses audio, or preferably, video recordings, to examine interaction between health and social care professionals and their clients or patients and to use these findings to inform and… read more

Recent Publications

Though I have taught across a range of areas, including social theory, philosophy of social science, and medical sociology, my current teaching is mostly research methods focused and linked to the ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership. This includes running a module on Analysing Verbal and Visual Interaction, and contributing to a module on Qualitative Methods. For many years I taught Sociology of Health and Illness for the Masters of Public Health programme at Nottingham Medical School. I am a co-convenor of the MA in Healthcare Language and Communication, which is an e-learning Masters programme run jointly with the School of English Studies and the School of Nursing. In 2012 I was the recipient of a Lord Dearing Award for teaching excellence.

Current Research

My research uses audio, or preferably, video recordings, to examine interaction between health and social care professionals and their clients or patients and to use these findings to inform and develop communication skills training. These recordings come from clinics, hospital wards, GP surgeries, or anywhere that healthcare is delivered. My preferred way of working is a method called conversation analysis which is highly detailed and, despite the name, also allows analysis of non-verbal and paralinguistic features of interactions. Though my work spans a wide range of settings, I'm particularly interested in some core practices which recur across healthcare settings: advice giving; communicating uncertainty; communicating risk; patient choice and decision making; communicating where one party has a condition that can affect talk (e.g. dementia); communicating where parties don't share a first language. As well as working to improve communication in specific settings, I'm also interested in trying to improve communication skills training more generally. For example, actors playing 'simulated patients' are common participants in healthcare training, and conversation analysis can be used to improve the authenticity of their interactions. Over the years, my work in this field has been supported by funders including ESRC, NIHR, General Research Fund of Hong Kong, Swiss National Science Foundation, Big Lottery Fund and the British Academy.

Past Research

URLs for selected publications- for a full list of publications please click on the tab at the top of the page.

Pilnick, A., Clegg, J., Murphy, E. and Almack, K. (2010) Questioning the answer: questioning style, choice and self-determination in interactions with young people with intellectual disabilities, Sociology of Health and Illness, 32 (3): 415-36. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9566.2009.01223.x/pdf

Pilnick, A. (2008) "It's something for you both to think about": choice and decision making in nuchal translucency screening for Down's syndrome, Sociology of Health and Illness, 30 (4): 511-30 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9566.2007.01071.x/pdf

Hindmarsh, J. and Pilnick, A. (2007) Knowing bodies at work: Embodiment and ephemeral teamwork in anaesthesia, Organization Studies, 28 (9): 1395-1416.Knowing bodies at work

Allen D and Pilnick, A (2005) Making conections: a case study in the social organization of healthcare. Sociology of Health and Illness, 27 (6): 683-700 Making connections: A case study in the social organisation of healthcare work

Pilnick, A. (2004) 'It's just one of the best tests that we've got at the moment': the presentation of screening for fetal abnormality in pregnancy, Discourse and Society, 15 (4): 451-465. 'It's just one of the best tests...'

Pilnick A (2002) "There are no rights and wrongs in these situations": identifying interactional difficulties in genetic counselling. Sociology of Health and Illness, 24 (1) 66-88. Identifying interactional difficulties in genetic counselling

Pilnick, A (1998) "Why didn't you just say that?": Dealing with issues of knowledge, competence and asymmetry in the pharmacist/client encounter, Sociology of Health and Illness, 20 (1) 29-51."Why didn't you just say that?": Dealing with issues of knowledge, competence and asymmetry in the pharmacist/client encounter

School of Sociology and Social Policy

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