PhD Candidate Profile: Elizabeth Nguyen


What is your research about?

The research will examine cancer health service use, risk and outcomes in people with intellectual disability, using big data methods.  The primary aim of the research will be to assess Australia’s current cancer healthcare services.  From this, I hope to bring to light any barriers or gaps in cancer service provision.

The research is targeted at people with intellectual disability as they experience a disproportionate burden of ill-health, including an increased risk of death from cancer.  Previous research has found that people with intellectual disabilities have double the rate of potentially avoidable deaths than the general population, with the biggest contribution being deaths from cancers. Reasons for this may include difficulty in completing cancer-screening assessments, limited access to resources or facilities, or low awareness of services or importance of cancer screening.  However, it is currently unknown what the reasons are, as there has been little research performed in this area.

In order for us to understand the reasons behind this inequality, I will compare a cohort of people with intellectual disability (n = 92,000), to a matched control cohort without intellectual disability (n = 460,000).  This will allow us to uncover any differences in service use between these two groups, so that we can better understand why outcomes between them differ.  To do this we will integrate and analyse population-based evidence from a number of sources including NSW and Commonwealth health service databases and registries.

What is translational application of your research?

The ultimate goal of the research is to improve health outcomes for people with cancer by driving changes in policy and health service provision. Results from the study will highlight any disparities in cancer screening, treatment and care.

Once areas in need of further development are identified, I will perform a comprehensive literature review to find ways to address issues so that clinical practice guidelines are informed with up-to-date, evidence-based research. Findings will be disseminated to multiple key points of contact in government, hospitals, general and specialist practice and the public to facilitate system-wide change.

With input from cancer service professionals, I will pinpoint barriers that may exist and identify markers of those that may be at greater risk of falling through the system.  I will then collaborate with implementation scientists to develop ways to ensure equity in quality of care.

How would the TCRN PhD top-up Scholarship help you succeed?

The scholarship will enable me to attend conferences to meet and potentially collaborate with people from different backgrounds.  I find this particularly valuable as I hope to gain a broad understanding of healthcare at different levels, from policy to implementation. I believe this will equip me with the resources to provide meaningful insights and recommendations to improve cancer service provision in Australia.