This month we speak to Dr Ranjita Dhital to find out how her research in designing and evaluating alcohol interventions and health architecture is improving the health of the public.
Dr Ranjita Dhital
Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Health Studies (Research and Teaching)
UCL Arts and Sciences Department (UASc)
Faculty of Arts & Humanities
What is your role and what does it involve?
I’m a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Health Studies (Research and Teaching) at the newly formed UCL Arts and Sciences Department (UASc). I’m conducting public health research in the UK and Nepal, this includes designing and evaluating alcohol interventions and health architecture. I lead modules “The Art and Science of Public Health” and “Research Methods in Arts and Sciences” for undergraduate (BASc) and post-graduate (MASc in Creative Health) programmes. I’ve founded and lead research and special interest groups to promote arts-health research, practice, and education. I’ve practiced as a community pharmacist, addiction specialist pharmacist and in public health; am also a sculptor; and enjoy applying creative approaches to my research and teaching.
How are you improving the health of the public?
I’ve recently returned from Nepal where I led a project to set up “Creative Nepal: Arts-Health Community”(UCL Arts & Humanities Faculty Research Impact Fellowship). We held an interactive creative event in Kathmandu involving health practitioners, educators, artists, business entrepreneurs, policy makers, researchers, and others to explore the value of applying the arts and interdisciplinary thinking to promote healthcare in Nepal. It was a wonderful event and great to see our Nepali delegates already had an innate understanding of arts and health, no doubt rooted in a diverse and rich cultural heritage.
I’m also researching new professional roles for pharmacists to reduce alcohol harm. This has included training “high street chemists” and GP pharmacists to engage with their patients to discuss alcohol use and its effects on their medications and health (PRUK Leverhulme Fellowship, NIHR Programme Grant). For another study, I trained pharmacists to support patients adhere to relapse prevention medication following alcohol detoxification treatment (NIHR HTA).
I’m leading another study, “Architecture of Pharmacies” (PRUK Leverhulme Fellowship), which involves co-designing community pharmacy spaces using arts-based participatory methods with patients, pharmacy staff, architects, artists, and others to develop a pharmacy design guide. Community pharmacy spaces are the most accessed health space we have globally, but we know very little about their effects on patients and staff, and how these spaces could be optimised to enhance pharmacy practice and improve health. I’m looking forward to bringing “design thinking” into pharmacy practice.
What do you find most interesting or enjoyable about your work?
I’ve been at UCL for just over a year and I’m enjoying working in the Arts and Sciences Department. It’s a stimulating environment with great colleagues. I think this creative environment has enabled me to be more experimental with my research; it sometimes feels like being a painter who has discovered an exciting new palette of colours! I’m also neurodivergent and all this has been positive for my working process.
I’m building my new research networks in Nepal, especially learning how communities can be so creative with little resources. This understanding has helped me build more meaningful relationships with my research colleagues.
How have cross-disciplinary collaborations shaped your research?
Whilst practising as an addiction specialist pharmacist I often wondered what support could have been available for my patients to prevent their drug and alcohol problems. What could have been in place to prevent addiction, and why was this support not available? It was through exploring these ideas that I realised health problems are multi-layered; they affect individuals and communities in complex ways, including socially, culturally, economically, and environmentally. Therefore, we require knowledge and approaches drawn from a range of disciplines and people to be effective, especially delivered in ways which positively engage individuals, and communities and are sustainable. To address these problems interventions would need to be equally multi-layered and developed with a greater appreciation for interdisciplinarity.
It was through this approach that I developed the idea for pharmacists to be involved in delivering brief interventions to reduce harmful/hazardous drinking. I’m now applying these ideas to my new alcohol study in Nepal and health architecture research.
What advice would you offer to others interested in developing cross-disciplinary research?’
Be playful and curious; try new things; do things differently; take risks; and, break “rules” if you have to.
What's next on the research horizon for you?
I’m building my current alcohol research in Nepal (GCRF), by applying creative research methods to co-design alcohol interventions with local communities to evaluate in a future study. I’ll also be working with members of the “Creative Nepal: Arts-Health Community” and other collaborators to develop this work. I’m looking forward to building my team and developing new relationships with an exciting range of individuals.
I’m also looking forward to progressing my “Architecture of Pharmacies” and sharing the findings. Hopefully this will create new thinking in the field.
If you could make one change in the world today, what would it be?
Change Higher Education, funding bodies, Governments and other organisations to have greater understanding and value for interdisciplinarity and creative approaches to research, and make the research process more accessible to engage neurodivergent researchers.