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  • Writer's pictureEivind Engebretsen

Presentation of Trisha Greenhalgh as Doctor Honoris Causa at the University of Oslo

On behalf of my colleague Elin Olaug Rosvold and myself, I am delighted to introduce the first of our two fantastic honorary doctors, professor Trisha Greenhalgh.

Professor Greenhalgh is a world-leading scholar in primary health care, evidence-based medicine, and social medicine. This was true when we first nominated her back in 2019 well before the pandemic (we have been waiting for this day for almost 3 years now!), and it is even more true today. Since then, her citations on Google scholar have nearly doubled and her number of followers on Twitter has increased from 40 000 to more than 170 000.

Trisha Greenhalgh is a Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences and Fellow of Green Templeton College at the University of Oxford and Director of the Interdisciplinary Research in Health Sciences (IRIS) research unit.

She is triple qualified, having gained a degree in Social and Political Sciences from the University of Cambridge in 1980, a medical degree from Oxford in 1983, and an MBA from the Institute of Education in 2015. Her early career was in hospital medicine, specialising in diabetes and endocrinology – in which she gained her doctoral degree in 1995.

We need more thinking

In an interview with Science published in October 2020, which named her the ‘high priestess' of U.K. COVID-19 masking campaign, Trish Greenhalgh says she was born with an insatiable appetite for academic challenges—and a distaste for following the rules.

"I nearly got kicked out of secondary school for stealing a dog and bringing him to class," she says.

Also as a researcher, Greenhalgh has no fear of challenging conventional wisdom and she categorically opposes what she calls the most overused and under-analyzed statement in the academic vocabulary: that ‘more research is needed.' What we need, she says, is more thinking.

Radically interdisciplinary approach

Professor Greenhalgh’s research is strongly oriented to social justice with a special emphasis on disadvantaged and ethnically diverse communities. She maintains that improving outcomes for such groups of individuals requires a radically interdisciplinary approach that incorporates biomedical, psychological, socio-cultural, and organisational dimensions, as well as optimising health informatics to support both front-line patient care and secondary uses.

I would briefly like to emphasize three of her major research contributions:

1/ Professor Greenhalgh has pioneered the concept of narrative-based medicine through several seminal publications in the late 90s (incl. several papers in the BMJ). She argues that acknowledgment and careful analysis of patients’ illness narratives is an integral part of evidence-based medicine. According to her, genuine evidence-based practice presupposes an interpretive paradigm in which the patient experiences illness in a unique and contextual way. Furthermore, it is only within such an interpretive paradigm that a clinician can meaningfully draw on all aspects of evidence to reach an integrated clinical judgment.

2/ Professor Greenhalgh has been a leading voice in the debate about evidence-based medicine and the challenges of implementing evidence-based practice in clinical care and healthcare policymaking. In 2014 she argued the need for a paradigm shift in evidence-based medicine emphasizing the need for “individualizing” the evidence. This paper became one of the most read and shared in the history of The BMJ and has influenced wide debate about contemporary challenges facing the EBM movement. Professor Greenhalgh has also published widely on the complexity of policy implementation processes. She has argued the need to replace a mechanic and linear notion of “knowledge translation” and introduced models for the diffusion of innovation that are widely used and cited. Most recently, she has brought this complexity-oriented perspective to bear on the research response to the Covid-19 pandemic, looking at diverse themes including the science and anthropology of face coverings and policy decision-making in conditions of uncertainty.

3/ She is a leading international voice in the social science of technology-supported change in health and social care. An important output of her research has been the widely-cited NASSS framework for explaining non-adoption, abandonment, and challenges to scale-up, spread, and sustainability of health and care technologies. She was awarded the American Medical Informatics Association prize in 2014 for the best paper linking health informatics and social sciences.

The humanistic traditions of medicine

Trish Greenhalgh is a doctor celebrating the humanistic traditions of medicine - and a true intellectual. She always appreciates an intellectually stimulating and scholarly crafted argument independent of whether the sender is a famous professor, a student, or a layperson. And she is persistently critical of «rubbish» and uncritical scholarship without paying attention to the authority of the scholar.

She has a strong commitment to developing a new generation of confident, questioning, and interdisciplinary scholars (especially female scholars!) through career development and research training programmes. Many of her higher degree students have gone on to win national awards and establish their own programmes of research, teaching, and service development.

It is with tremendous pleasure and honour that I give the floor to professor Trisha Greenhalgh.

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