The Royal Research Projects

The Legal Services Department of Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH), the QUT Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health and Social Work from the Faculty of Health, have developed an initiative where QUT students undertake focused inquiry into practice challenges at RBWH which contain a combination of legal and social considerations.

The first of what is expected to be a number of projects will seek to understand how the use of Advanced Health Directives can be improved. A team of six (6) QUT students from law and social work/ human services will work collaboratively on the project for 12 weeks in semester 1, 2013. It is anticipated that future teams will continue the work in subsequent semesters. The team will be supervised by the A/Director Legal Services, RBWH with the assistance of two QUT academics who have health law expertise.

QUT social work and human services contact for the project is Dr Phil Crane, School of Public Health and Social Work, QUT.


Anna: I did my final placement at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital. I first found out that I was going to be involved with the project before I started when one of my lecturers gave me a A4 sheet of paper with the details of the project and the project partners. I was excited and apprehensive about what the project might involved but I was excited about the collaborative part.

Sarah: For me it was my first placement so I feel any experience on first placement is really valuable because it is your first step into understanding what social work is and the role of the social worker is. So for me it was really good to sink my teeth into something that gave all my theory and all my learning some practical application.

Anna: I think the highs were around having the opportunity to work together as part of a team on an area which had been identified by the hospital as something that they needed to look into to find out what things could change to improve not just social work practice but the response from the multi disciplinary team.

Sarah: We were told initially to develop a survey that would go out to the health professionals in the hospital to find out about Advanced Health Directives (AHDs). So we started off with a literature review so we could get an understanding of what a advanced health directive was and what challenges had been identified in the literature so we knew what we were working with. From that we began to develop a written survey. We weren't sure at that point if would be a survey on line or a tick and flick. So we developed a survey and that took majority of the time.

Anna: The process was complex in its nature because some of the data we were trying to capture form the survey wasn't the type of thing that lean itself to concrete responses or simple yes/no answers. So the challenge was how do we capture the complexity of the practitioner experience in having this difficult conversation with an individual. How do we design our questionnaire or conduct our literature review in a way that captures that complexity.

Social Work Students Contribution

Anna: I think initially the law students were focused on the document (AHD) itself and its interpretation in the hospital perhaps interested in the application of the document. I think myself and the other student brought the individual who had written the document into the picture. Understanding that the individual "the person and environment" the individual in context of their family and cultural background and individual circumstances.

Sarah: I think it gave insight into the social workers process of understanding things form macro, messo and miro level. This is something that is very familiar to me through Uni and then being in that environment it made me aware that we as social workers are very good at dealing the with systems and understanding systems and how systems can impact and conflict with each other.

Sarah: We also had a good sense of working with different cultural groups and working form different backgrounds because we have an understanding of being sensitive to those things so I can see cultural sensitivity was a big thing that we brought to that project.

Sarah: Being really conscious about communicating with people and communicating in a way that was sensitive and appropriate and also empathy is a big part of social work. I feel like we hopefully brought that into the project.

Processes that assisted or challenged.

Sarah: From the initial stages we knew what we were working on and where it was headed, not specially where it was headed but we knew the intention was the survey to get results to change the way AHDs were used in the hospital or understand the issues with them. So everyone having a clear idea of the goal of the project was good.

Sarah: Time is always a big limitation. As social work students we were aware that this project was only a small part of the placement whereas for the laws students it was their full subject. We knew we could only devote a small amount of time because the work load on placement was so large. Time limitations were big because we could not invest as much time as the legal students could so there were feeling so "are we contributing enough? Are we putting in as much time" so that was a limitation.

Sarah: Because there was a mixed group of people it was hard to get things coordinated and meet and keep the momentum moving.

Sarah: The other student brought a lot to the project. I think having the other student allowed us to reflect together about how the project was going. The two of us gave us more confident in seeing how the project was going and be stronger point of view "our social work voice". Having another student was a great experience, it was really good.

Sarah: Having a sense that there was a lot of collaboration but also support. As a student felt that I was treading new ground so it was good to know that there were a lot of people who knew what the project was about and could guide us if we were to come across any bumps in the road.

Adding value to placement

Sarah: I was learning so much about the social work role, the social work voice and understanding of myself and the profession, it did make me a lot more confident on the Wards. So that when I was on the Wards I felt more confident talking to patients and other professionals. It made me feel like I knew what I was talking about and felt more confident about myself. The one thing about placement is that you do feel vulnerable because you are so new and learning a lot. It opened my eyes to different skills that are and can be useful throughout my career. The skills of communicating with the law students gave me a sense of communicating with a multi disciplinary team like with the other professionals Ward.

Sarah: I think it allowed me to hone in on a part of the patient experience at the hospital. Not all health professionals have a good understanding of the use of a AHD . It added that dimension when I was involved in practice with patients having an understanding of the role the document played which I would perhaps no have had if I hadn't been involved in the royal research project.

Social work addressing complexity.

Sarah: I feel like that is what the social work role/ profession can bring to help people who have complex issues really fit into where they need to be or access the rights that are awarded within systems that are complex and not addressing that. The simple A4 6 page document of the AHD really does not deal with the complexity of people around death and living. So it is good for us to understand that this individual has a lot of feelings and wishes around death but also knowing that have to stipulate within this document so it is good to be able to combine the two so people feel like they are respected in dying.

Anna: I learnt a lot across multiple areas of practice. The key learning for me was being able to make the link between research and social work practice and understand that each element influences the other. I also learnt to work with people from a variety of backgrounds/disciplines both in the professional context within the hospital and also with the students from the legal degree.