Perinatal challenges spark interest in subject for PhD thesis

PhD graduate Dr Elaine dos Santos with Chancellor Julie Bishop
18 December 2023

It was a combination of personal experience accessing perinatal care during pregnancy, coupled with a knowledge of health care systems within her role as a senior neuro physiotherapist at a Melbourne hospital that inspired Elaine dos Santos to investigate the provision of health care during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

“My research analysed the views of migrant women living in Hamilton, Victoria and Canberra that shaped their perinatal care experiences in Australia.”

“It also explored the views of health professionals providing perinatal care and their diagnoses of migrant women with perinatal depression in Australia,” Dr dos Santos explained.

The research revealed that a combination of continuity of care and social support lead to a positive perinatal experience.

To deal with difficulty building rapport with health professionals due to the lack of continuity of care, Dr dos Santos recommended to expand access to Birthing Centres.

“Migrant women in Canberra reported health professionals were not being responsive to their needs, whilst also reporting their potential to mute their voices, and limit their visibility and representation in perinatal care. This also had the potential to diminish the meaning of their suffering and distress.”

“While the explanations for the dissatisfaction in Canberra may be locale-specific, this study points to the need for communities of support for migrant mothers rather than focusing on medical programs alone,” Dr dos Santos said.

Dr dos Santos’s study reveals the importance of culturally safe health practices, and adoption of the routine use of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) and interpreting services. It also recommends further studies with a larger number of participants.

Since graduating in mid-December, Dr dos Santos is keen to engage in further research and hopes to continue empowering other clinicians to step into research.

“Mentoring other clinicians to step into research is something that I have been doing organically.”

“I have worked in a range of streams and programs inside the public hospital system, and we are constantly looking into innovative ways to deliver care and being updated with the latest literature to provide evidence-based care.”

“Having just crossed the finishing line, I’d particularly like to give thanks to my supervisors - Professor Christine Phillips and Associate Professor Louise Stone - who where both extremely supportive during my study.”

“Professor Phillips provided wonderful guidance on navigating the challenges of conducting research alongside parenthood and work commitments for which I’m grateful.”

“It’s a wonderful feeling to have achieved my goal,” Dr dos Santos smiled.