Robin Digby

Doctor of Philosophystudent

Many professionals working in healthcare see problems – gaps, sub-standard care, and outdated systems. Trailblazers are the ones that put a name to the problem, give it an outline, and identify research needed to bring about change.  Robin Digby is one such trailblazer.

After two decades working with older people in rehabilitation settings, Robin Digby saw there was a problem and decided to do something about it.  Many of the patients she worked with had dementia, and they struggled. Something about the system was not working for them and Robin wanted to find out what it was.

Fast forward a couple of years and Robin has completed a PhD at Monash, exploring the experiences of people with dementia and nurses in sub-acute hospitals.

"The PhD office was welcoming and the other students were very encouraging of each other's work."

Robin has the distinction of being the first Nursing PhD student to be awarded the Maxwell King PhD Scholarship.  The prestigious scholarship is awarded to the best applicant undertaking a PhD degree in any field of study, based on outstanding academic merit. It was created to honour Professor Maxwell King, who made an outstanding contribution to graduate research at Monash.

The scholarship enabled Robin to shift to full-time study and embrace campus life. Studying at the Monash Peninsula, she found the environment “very conducive to study”.

“The PhD office was welcoming and the other students were very encouraging of each other's work.

“I had an excellent relationship with my two supervisors. They were very available to me and I found their feedback very constructive. They both had extremely busy portfolios but endeavoured to comment on my work in a short timeframe.”

Through her research Robin found that older patients with dementia often felt alienated in the hospital environment and “were bored, homesick and often did not know why they were there”.  Not surprisingly, these people could deteriorate cognitively and physically during their hospital stay.

"I had an excellent relationship with my two supervisors. They were very available to me and I found their feedback very constructive."

Nurses also found caring for these patients stressful, Robin said, and can sometimes feel “over-worked due to multiple competing demands, and many are under-prepared educationally for the role”.

“The experiences of these two groups are not well understood because very little research has explored this area.”

Both nurses and patients attributed an “efficiency-driven organisational focus” as one of the factors negatively affecting care practices and experiences.

For Robin, it is vital that research continues in this area, especially given the number of people with dementia will continue to rise.