• Comms prof becomes BU’s first non-STEM researcher to earn prestigious NSF Career Grant

    Dr. Ashley Barrett headshot

    Anyone who has visited the doctor in recent years — whether in-person or virtually — can see that the ways patients and doctors share information is changing. From online patient portals to computerized files medical professionals can reference while talking to the patient, new technologies ensure that everyone involved is both adopting and adapting together.

    Dr. Ashley Barrett (BA ’07, MA ’09) studies these ever-evolving patient-provider interactions to examine the role of compassionate communication and empathy — and her work is garnering national support and acclaim.

    Barrett earned a prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to examine the topic on two fronts: to learn how providers innovate their communication practices following advanced technology implementation to achieve compassionate care, and to uncover patient perceptions of the practices and interactions that best promote compassionate communication. She’ll also focus attention on the unique communication needs of marginalized communities and those for whom English is not their first language.

    “We don’t have as many face-to-face visits anymore, and we know the online sphere isn’t going anywhere,” Barrett says. “Even in-person, health care providers are simultaneously utilizing electronic records as they see the patient. How does the patient feel compassion in that? Do providers notice patients’ enhanced needs to develop relationships of trust in these settings and connect emotionally through empathy? Do they connect cognitively through perspective taking and then respond effectively with verbal and nonverbal responses? How do needs for compassion and communication differ with marginalized health populations? These are some of the questions I am to figure out.”

    If you’re wondering if it’s rare for a communication faculty member to earn a science grant, then you caught on to the significance of the grant. The NSF does offer non-STEM CAREER awards, and Barrett is the first Baylor faculty member to earn one. CAREER Awards are both highly competitive and highly coveted, and Barrett’s historic grant comes with $440,381 in funding for her research.

    Data shows that trusting health care relationships lead to better health care outcomes, making Barrett’s research a distinct but natural fit for the historic award.

    Sic ’em, Dr. Barrett!

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