Winter 2016 edition of the EONS Magazine - catch up with the EONS-10 Congress

“My biggest lifetime achievement is working with wonderful people”

Carol Tishelman, Professor of Innovative Care at the Karolinska Institute, in Sweden, received the EONS Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2016 congress in Dublin. Jim Boumelha spoke to her.

Born and bred in the Bronx in New York, Carol spent her early 20s moving between her hometown and the newly adopted country where she spent most of her life, and married and raised a family. Her nursing career, which started with a degree programme at Pennsylvania University, was furthered by the first advanced course in oncology nursing taught in Sweden.

Carol Tishelman

Carol Tishelman

She thereafter enrolled for a doctorate in the mid-80s because she says “I had an idea about the need for a contact nurse for people with cancer – this was the only way to be able to get people interested in my ideas and to be able to systematically show that there was the need for change.”

Carol felt more comfortable being a researcher than a clinical nurse. “My contribution to nursing was better as a researcher; working with practitioners, as opposed to seeing the relationship between research and practice as hierarchical – I think we are just different pieces of a puzzle and need to find ways to work together.”

Although the direction that she took was crucial in determining every aspect of her career, her trajectory has always involved interactions with other disciplines, which she fervently believed should complement and work with each other – “not only health professionals,” she emphasised, “not only doctors, not only physicians, not only occupational therapists, physiotherapists, or sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists...we need to think outside the box.”

During her doctoral studies she changed the department from the Department of Stress Research to the Department for International Health Care Research. She recalls how almost all of the departments she has been at were multi- and interdisciplinary.

It was during these formative doctoral years that she was forced to think through what kind of contribution she thought nurses should make. Carol recalls the powerful influence of her thesis supervisor, who was a medical anthropologist, “which made me interested in looking at cancer care as a meeting between different cultures – the culture of professionals and the culture of non-professionals.” The conventional wisdom, which Carol questioned, was that professionals have the truth and know the answers while other people who are involved know less.

When she entered the Karolinska Institute, in Stockholm, Carol had already started coalescing the ethical foundation that she has honed continuously throughout her career. As well as working at other nursing faculties in Sweden and abroad for shorter times, she accumulated a formidable experience through a stint at the Stockholm Centre for Gerontology Research, where she started, then the Department of Nursing at the Institute where she later became the Vice-Dean for two and half years. She has also been guest professor at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics and finally moved to a position at the Department of Learning, Informatics, Management and Ethics in 2007 after becoming professor of nursing in 2006.  Two years ago, she obtained the post of endowed chair in innovative care, a position working at the intersect of health care and social care.

Another feather in her cap is the EONS lifetime achievement. She could not join the award ceremony in Dublin as she was already committed in Canada but she sent a video clip acknowledging the award. “It’s just an incredible honour for me, but my biggest lifetime achievement is working with wonderful people. None of us are able to accomplish what we do by ourselves. The award is not mine alone but an award to the people I worked and work with,” she said.

Acknowledging the enormous contribution by nursing colleagues in Sweden she noted, “It shows that we are internationally reputable and our work matters not only locally or nationally but to the world.”

Carol regrets having missed the thought-provoking keynote speech on the imbalance in healthcare needs worldwide at the EONS congress by fellow academic Meinir Krishnasami of Melbourne University, and believes that nurses should be engaged in these debates, adding her own comments: “It’s important to recognise that without individual action there can be no collective action, and that we are all political beings. I feel about this very strongly following the recent elections in Europe and in the United States,” she said, adding, “We need to take responsibility for ourselves and for the future of others. And we really need to deal with this constructively. Nursing is a profession that is related to values about humanity. We have to recognise that and work in line with our own consciences.”

Carol does not pull her punches in arguing for equality, justice and access to health care. “Healthcare is a human right” she affirmed and argued for using technology to further humane care rather than for the sake of technology itself and furthering the welfare of people who already have strong resources.

Looking to the future she said “we have to think creatively” and in terms of “new partnerships”, emphasising that “our role is not to speak for somebody else but to support other people to further their own voices; to find different way of partnership with the people who have care needs.”

Her message to young nurses is to learn from her long experience of taking up “the opportunity to work in different directions and to make new pathways” which allowed her to do things differently and help move the world in a positive direction. “We’ll have to work with other people from inside the health care system with other kinds of competency and this is a real challenge to think differently,” she added.

Where she will go from here? Carol is thrilled by her professorship, which she says has given her “a voice in a variety of situations where nurses often rarely have a voice. I don’t work with the pharma industry but I do have contact with other industries and organisations. My task will be to try to help us realise our ideas and develop structures that nursing will be a part of. Often we try to think how we can solve issues rather than thinking about how can we ask important questions, and who we can work with to address these questions.”

Photo credit: Stefan Zimmerman