Building a stronger relationship between health and care

November 12, 2018

A personal experience led senior Lena Rammouni to seek out research opportunities that help doctors and clients build better relationships. And a campus lab helped her create something that doctors are now using to do just that.

When asked, “What do you want to do with your life?,” Lena Rammouni may previously have replied, “To help others.” But a family crisis put her future in focus when she saw what a strong doctor-patient connection did for her father.

“Some say my father’s recovery was a miracle and that may be true. But I also think it had to do with education, support and understanding from his medical team,” said Rammouni, a behavioral and biological sciences major on the pre-medical route. “He went from a near-death situation four years ago to being able to walk again because they knew the type of encouragement he needed. I want to be that type of medical professional — one that takes time to listen and understand patient needs.”

Now in her senior year, Rammouni said campus opportunities have prepared her for medical school and more effective doctor/patient relationships.

“Relationships you make influence the way that you cope with stress, which affects physical and mental health,” she said. “That’s why it is important for us to better understand the types of relationships we form and that others form. If we can understand that, we can be more effective in how we treat people.”

As a freshman, she approached Psychology Associate Professor Caleb Siefert about getting involved with his research. As a sophomore, she learned the research process and began understanding her own interests better through Siefert’s lab. And in her junior and senior year, she’s discovered results that could be applied in a research or client/doctor situation when helping people better understand personalities.

“I knew research was a critical component of the medical profession, so I went up to Professor Siefert, who was my Psych 101 professor, and asked to get involved,” she said. “And here I am today. I’ve done several research projects, presentations and feel confident that I’m headed in the right direction with my future."

Her most recent work, presented at the Sargon Partners Undergraduate Research Showcase, has to do with helping people — like researchers and doctors — assess clients for interpersonal ambivalence (IA), which is the conflicting desire to form relationships but also being afraid to get hurt from these formed relationships.

IA is an important factor to include when looking at an overall picture of health because identifying it helps predict the level of openness a patient may have with a physician.

Siefert was the first researcher to develop an effective tool to measure IA. And Rammouni has worked with him on making the intake form more user friendly. Her research project took the 18-question original intake form and shortened it to six.

“The study provides a shorter tool for assessing attachment ambivalence and reduces respondent burden because it does not require them to complete so many redundant items.”

Siefert said Rammouni’s work to advance IA understanding has been instrumental in his research. The shortened form has made it viable for use in medical settings; he said two hospitals are currently using it to help identify patients who may be at risk to have poor communication with the doctor.

“For this form to have gained traction, it needed to have 10 items or less and still be as good as the long version. Lena has done that,” Siefert said. “She is a dedicated student who followed her interest in the patient/doctor connection, applied it to research and came out with something that will help doctors on the ground.”

Rammouni said there’s more to do to help doctors and patients build these beneficial relationships and she looks forward to continuing the work.

“It’s important to understand how attachment affects our health. It’s also important to know how to appropriately respond to and care for others — through support and education — when they find themselves in a challenging place,” she said. “My father’s bond with his doctors and nurses helped him pull through, and for that reason, he is here with us today. That’s what I want to do for someone. Through the opportunities I’ve had at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, I have greater confidence that I’ll have the mindfulness and experience to build those strong and successful relationships."

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