Working Together to Restore – A/Prof Adam Collison

How Christian faith encourages collaboration in research


From Luke’s Journal May 2023  |  Vol.28 No.2  |  Unity in Diversity 

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For all its faults and frustrations, contemporary healthcare in Australia is truly remarkable.  Our health system is able to offer hope and relief from the ravages of disease and the harsh realities of life in a fallen world.

Our modern expectations of health and longevity would have been unthinkable just generations ago. The methods and scholarship that have underpinned such advances sit alongside the structures and practices that have made it broadly available across society.

Christian thought has contributed to these changed circumstances across a broad spectrum: from the rule of law through labour conditions; capitalist systems that have fostered the distribution and refinement of modern practice; to both public investment and philanthropic drivers of early discovery.

Here, we will focus on the changing shape of medical research, the increased need for collaborative engagement across interdisciplinary teams and how a Christian worldview informs our contribution. It is one practical expression of the CMFDA vision of what it means “to be transformed by Christ, transforming healthcare”.

At its core, medical research is driven by a desire to deliver better health outcomes. This is both directly to patients in particular, and also across society at large, with public health and prevention strategies integrated into government policy beyond the health system.

Investment in research has consistently been shown to deliver these better health outcomes – not just through new and improved therapeutic options, but also through clinical research activity, which is associated with improved patient outcomes across the board, even for patients not directly involved in clinical trials or new treatments.1 

“The improvement of inpatient experience overall appears to be linked to the research-active staff who drive better information provision across the service, particularly regarding medication management.”

Since clinical research activity is a minute fraction of hospital activities, these relationships are imperfectly understood. The improvement of inpatient experience overall appears to be linked to the research-active staff who drive better information provision across the service, particularly regarding medication management. Thus, these relationships have been found, not only in traditional academic medical settings, but also smaller district hospitals across the national health service.

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As emerging approaches are increasingly sophisticated, modern medical research frequently requires input from teams of professionals with intersecting skill sets. Internationally, funding bodies are increasingly recognising these requirements, with Australia’s Medical Research Future Fund and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) both encouraging team contributions in their primary funding schemes. There are ongoing efforts to examine structures and facilitate more efficient access to both resources and expertise. There is significant scholarship identifying the optimal approaches necessary to contribute to interprofessional collaboration in both the clinical and research environments. Considerable progress is being made. But it takes significant time, energy and commitment to chase limited funding and see projects through the many day-to-day hurdles – energies that could easily be invested in more apparently urgent and often more gratifying pursuits.

“At a local level, one of the primary reasons research doesn’t happen is that other people are difficult to work with.” 

At a local level, one of the primary reasons research doesn’t happen is that other people are difficult to work with.  Our systems are poorly set up to facilitate research endeavours and often create additional challenges in navigating the unfamiliar processes required. However, the core failure is all too often that one of the individual relationships is not strong enough to work together to overcome these obstacles.

It is rare for a collective group to be able to come together amidst all of the other professional and personal pressures in life and work hard, especially with little hope of direct personal reward. Mixed agendas fail to align sufficiently well for contributions to be seen as worthwhile by the multiple parties required to pull off an impactful study. It is to these common challenges which the Christian worldview has perhaps the most to offer. 

As Christians, we are called to emulate a Saviour who left the intimate presence of God to enter into our broken world. A Saviour who set aside His own glory to redeem and restore fallen creation. A Saviour who weighed His immediate difficulties and sufferings against their eternal significance.

When we Christians contribute to a research project, we are not primarily seeking our own reputation or the regard of our peers. Rather we are working to restore – in a small way, to turn back some of the consequences of the fall. We can choose to be content to spend our energies for the betterment of those whom we will never meet. Indeed, we can do so gladly, for we have a Saviour who spent everything for our benefit and so it is a privilege to use our unique giftedness in His service. This larger truth ought to be a key motivator, enabling us to invest more of ourselves when otherwise we might be content with a path of lesser resistance. 

Even with the proper motivation, we also need to be strategic in how we engage with others to develop the best chance of successfully seeing through meaningful projects together. Indeed, even in the context of a church family, we don’t find it naturally easy to work as different parts of one body. These differences are only greater amongst the interprofessional teams required to conduct modern medical research.

“Indeed, even in the context of a church family, we don’t find it naturally easy to work as different parts of one body.”

Orchard et al. have done seminal work over the last decade2 quantifying and describing what makes interprofessional teams successful in the clinical setting.

They summarise optimal contribution in three core domains: partnership, coordination and cooperation. These principles readily translate into the research setting and can be concrete expressions of our underlying motivations. It should not surprise us that they are very similar to biblical principles, exhorting us to relate to each other with love and respect.

It turns out that when we do so, even complex teams can flourish and enjoy their diversity as they work towards a common goal. Although there is increasing recognition and incorporation in our undergraduate teaching programs, these basic interpersonal skills have rarely been taught as part of our professional development. Nevertheless, they are the key competencies required to participate together and succeed in the research that will deliver better outcomes for those who need care into the future. It is here that the Christian researcher can model selfless service for the greater good, demonstrating a way forward to be incorporated in future training.

A/Prof Adam Collison
A/Prof Adam Collison is a discovery scientist working to understand how environmental exposures in utero and early life shape our immune system and set us on a trajectory to health or disease across the lifespan. His particular focus is on preventing the onset of asthma and allergy. Adam’s teaching is focussed on equipping and enthusing our next generation of clinical researchers.


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  1. Jonker et al. Clinical research activity in hospitals is associated with reduced mortality and improved overall care quality. (Journal of Evaluation of Clin Prac 2019
  2. Orchard CA, King GA, Khalili H, Bezzina MB. Assessment of Interprofessional Team Collaboration Scale (AITCS): development and testing of the instrument. J Contin Educ Health Prof. 2012; 32(1):58-67.