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Personal experience Dominique and Arsen

Looking for a new perspective within their studies

It was while Dominique Nijmeijer and Arsen Goril were taking part in the ‘Healthcare of Tomorrow’ think tank that were able to develop a new perspective within healthcare. During the think tank they focused on an underexposed topic within healthcare: the existential dimension of care. At the request of Radboud university medical center, the students conducted research and, as a starting point, drafted a recommendation on ‘values-based healthcare’.


Photos: Dominique Nijmeijer and Arsen Goril

Although the two students have very different backgrounds, they set up the think tank with a similar goal in mind. As a student of Cultural Anthropology and Developmental Sociology, Dominique was looking for a new perspective within her studies. “There are many different directions that you can take within anthropology: there is also a demand for anthropological research within the medical community. Due to the coronavirus crisis, the research field became more relevant, and I wanted to know more about it, and find out how healthcare actually works.” The topic was also new for Arsen, who is a medical student. “At the first meeting, a complex concept was immediately clarified, that of the ‘existential dimension’ and the existential questions of patients. Although I was already familiar with quite a lot of terms that are used within the healthcare sector, this topic was not discussed during my Bachelor’s studies. What significance is this given in the healthcare sector?”

After reviewing the literature and working out a set of concepts, the students examined the topic in greater detail. They not only talked to patients, but also conducted interviews with healthcare professionals about the sense of purpose in the healthcare sector. “Within different disciplines, doctors and nurses had very different views on the existential dimension and the sense of purpose. While the oncologist spoke at great length about death, the rehabilitation specialist actually went into more detail about the daily needs of the patient,” says Arsen. Dominique adds: “The patients also had very different views on the sense of purpose. The impact on the overall quality of life turned out to be particularly relevant: for example, one patient told us about a medicine that caused bad breath, and as a result it had stopped her little daughter from sitting on her lap. If a doctor is able to discuss this type of issue with a patient, they can work together to come up with a solution that largely focuses on the existential dimension.”

For their final assignment, the students made a video and wrote a report, using the interviews as a recurrent theme. Dominique: “We used the video to convey a powerful message. We showed the video to the Patient Advisory Council and to the staff in the Neurology Department. One key piece of advice that emerged was very simple: engage with the patient and ask them how things are going at home. However, this has proved to be difficult for many doctors, as time constraints prevent them from asking certain questions.” Be that as it may, the students can see that there is still scope for implementing the advice. Arsen: “The research that has been done on doctors’ consultation time showed that discussing the existential dimension did not require much additional time. In as little as half a minute, an oncologist could discuss a simple question, such as: ‘What’s really running through your mind right now?’ This approach could help the patient quite a lot.”