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Imogen Fecher-Jones
Perioperative Advanced Clinical Practitioner / Doctoral Fellow

Imogen Fecher-Jones is researching the best ways to help patients at University Hospital Southampton (UHS) prepare for surgery.

She is currently undertaking a PhD, funded by UHS, which she secured through support from SoAR.

Surgery school

Patients who are healthy before surgery have been shown to have better outcomes.

“If they get fitter, eat better, stop drinking, stop smoking and are mentally well, then they’re more likely to have better outcomes from surgery,” says Imogen. “That’s been proven.”

Imogen runs an online session, known as ‘surgery school’, for patients who are due to have surgery at UHS. It forms part of the prehabilitation programme – like rehabilitation, but done beforehand.

While some patients referred to the prehabilitation programme may have extra sessions, everyone is asked to take part in Imogen’s session. It’s a one-off video call that lasts about an hour and a half.

The session helps patients prepare for their operation by making changes to their lifestyle. It covers nutrition, emotional well-being, exercise, and what to expect from their hospital visit. At the end of the session, patients set goals based on what they’re learnt.

Many of the patients have cancer. Imogen says these patients often find the session empowering.

“They find it very positive, during a dark time,” Imogen explains. “We’re giving them a very upbeat, proactive session on what they can do to improve their recovery.”

Further improving the service

Imogen’s three-year PhD will assess the methods used in surgery school, to optimise the service.

“It’s not just about talking to them,” she explains. “There are methods that we use to support behaviour changes, and hopefully make it more likely that they will make lifestyle changes to improve their health and well-being.

She will speak to experts from across the country, as well as patients, to make sure the content is exactly right. Once she has this, she plans to run a feasibility trial in Plymouth, to see if it works.

While the surgery school is already well received, she hopes this will mean more people make the changes needed to get into the best possible shape before their surgery.

“The patient feedback already has been really, really good,” she says, “so we know we’re on the right track.”

Supported by SoAR

Throughout her research career, Imogen says that SoAR have supported her every step of the way.

She first met SoAR seven years ago, when she moved to work in the perioperative medicine team and pursue a clinical academic career. She later became one of SoAR’s champions.

“SoAR have been absolutely pivotal in getting me to where I’ve got to,” she says.

“It was SoAR that inspired me to apply for anNIHR predoctoral award (PCAF) in 2018,” she says. “They signposted me where to apply and supported me all the way through that two and a half year process.”

On completing the PCAF in 2021, she applied for an NIHR clinical doctoral research fellowship, but while her application got her an interview, she wasn’t successful in getting the award. Usually that would be the end of the story, and her only option would have been to apply again the following year. However, as she got an interview for the NIHR award, she was then able to apply for a PhD funded by UHS.

“If SoAR hadn’t been there to pick up the pieces,” she says. It is very unlikely I would have been able to undertake this PhD.

“With two small children and a busy job leading the perioperative medicine team, a fellowship was the only possible route. I feel very lucky and thankful to have this opportunity to research something I feel so passionate about whilst maintaining my position at UHS.

“Without SoAR I wouldn’t be where I am now at all.”

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