Words always mattered to global prizewinner

Crystal Mackay // Western News

Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor Lorelei Lingard recently won the 2018 Karolinska Institutet Prize for Research in Medical Education for her work exploring the uses of language in health-care settings and how that translates to medical education. The Prize is presented every second year by the Karolinska Institutet, one of the world’s leading medical universities. Lingard is the first woman to receive the award.

Lorelei Lingard’s love for language started early in her childhood, when she and her mother, who was a high school English teacher, would play Scrabble at the kitchen table.

“I grew up in a house where language was really important. If you wanted to put a word on the board, you had to use that word in a sentence and you had to use it properly,” Lingard said.

“Eventually, that led me to the study of language in university. I wanted to know why people spoke the way they did, why it mattered, and how they learned to do it – and research seemed to be the way to do that.”

This curiosity about language led to a career studying the uses of language in the health-care setting and how that translates to medical education.

This career-spanning work has earned her the 2018 Karolinska Institutet Prize for Research in Medical Education. The prestigious international prize recognizes high-quality research in the field, with the aim of promoting long-term improvements in educational practice. The Prize is presented every second year by the Karolinska Institutet, one of the world’s leading medical universities.

Lingard is the first woman to receive the award.

The Medicine professor, cross-appointed to Education, serves as the Director of the Centre for Education Research and Innovation at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. Lingard studies how health professionals use language as they work together in teams to provide patient care, and how that influences clinical learning.

She and her research team have studied expert and novice team members diverse settings, including the operating room, critical-care unit, transplant unit, heart function clinic and inpatient medicine ward.

Her work helps guide how medical schools teach and assess their learners and informs what medical schools value as important in medical training and in shaping medical education policy in Canada and internationally. As a result, clinical training now emphasizes the role of language on the health care team.

“My research asks, what does language make passible in a team, and what does it constrain? As it turns out, language does many things that are critical for medical education and for care delivery. As a consequence of my research, we now pay systematic and critical attention to how clinical teams communicate with each other,” Lingard explained.

Her work has also inspired the recognition that teamwork is essential in how trainees learn in the medical education setting.

“It is very rare for health care to be delivered by a single provider to a single patient. Most of what happens in health care does so with a team of individuals supporting a patient and their family,” said Lingard. “That being the case, it becomes very important to ask about language. If you think about what teams do to be able to work together, they do all of that through language.”

Lingard said this kind of research didn’t exist 20 years ago when she first began in this field. At that time, this kind of qualitative, social-science-based, medical-education research was considered to be a radical departure from past practice. The Karolinska prize is as much about the innovative nature of the research as it is about her as a researcher.

“Being recognized with this prize will free me up to do things that are even more radical. That’s what I hope is in store for me in the next 10 years of my career.”

Lingard will receive the award and a prize amount of €50,000 at a ceremony Oct. 11 in Stockholm, Sweden.