Christina Sinding
Professor, Social Work

No human being, no matter how rich, advantaged or powerful they might be, is immune from cancer.

Cancer might well be one of life’s great equalizers, but cancer care is another story. Health and social justice researcher Christina Sinding studies how social marginalization affects how people understand, navigate and receive cancer care.

She works directly with people who have been diagnosed with cancer and who belong to marginalized groups of many kinds – women over the age of seventy, lesbians, people diagnosed with mental illness. She also collaborates with front-line care providers, who can also provide insight into how cancer care can be made more equitable and inclusive.

In separate but related research, Sinding also studies the complex effects of an increasingly patient-centric model of providing health care. While encouraging patient to exercise individual choice and ownership over their own care might sound entirely sensible, it actually raises some difficult issues.

As patients are increasingly expected to choose well in the healthcare “marketplace,” it raises serious questions about whether the shift is really about empowerment, or about shifting responsibility from providers to patients.

Nothing in Sinding’s research suggests patients should not be involved in their own healthcare. But patients struggle to choose among treatment options neutrally laid out by a doctor or nurse. Cancer patients deciding on chemotherapy treatments have the worst time making calls with which they feel comfortable. And the pressure to take individual responsibility extends to the results of a decision – if the treatment isn’t effective, patients – more often than they used to - blame themselves.

When healthcare providers don’t offer counsel, privileged patients get advice from friends and colleagues in the medical system. But that leaves more marginalized patients at further disadvantage.

Taking personal responsibility for one’s care plays out very differently in different lives. Sinding’s research is driven by a passion to create a framework that serves all patients more equitably.
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