Published: 27-01-2022 16:12 | Updated: 31-01-2022 16:29

Martina Gustavsson, PhD student at the Centre for Research on Healthcare in Disaster, on how working in Haiti benefits her PhD work

Houses collapsed in earthquake
Earthquake in Haiti. Photo: Getty Images.

Martina Gustavsson is a nurse with experience of working in disaster-stricken areas around the world. Last year she spent a month and a half working in Haiti, an experience that she shared before Christmas in her talk at a research group meeting that is held monthly in the Health systems and Policy-group. Martina is also currently doing her PhD and she thinks combining the theoretical work with field work is very beneficial.

Martina Gustavsson, forskningshandläggare vid institutionen för global folkhälsa
Martina Gustavsson. Photo: private.

What did your work in Haiti entail?

"I was seconded by MSF Sweden (Médecins Sans Frontières) following the earthquake in Haiti 14 August 2021. When I left, I did not know if I would be working in the earthquake-stricken area or in the capital Port au Prince, where MSF had started an emergency project for internally displaced people.

In the end I was sent to Port au Prince because they had a lack of medical staff there. I worked as a nurse, medically responsible for Mobile Clinics, which gave medical support to internal refugees who had gathered in informal refugee camps following the outbreak of political violence and increased gang violence that struck Haiti in the summer of 2021", says Martina Gustavsson.

But normally you work here at GPH, doing your PhD. What is your doctoral thesis on?

"My doctoral thesis concerns the ethical challenges that health care workers face when working in disasters, and the moral stress and distress that it places on them".

­How does doing fieldwork, like what you did in Haiti, relate to working on your PhD?

"Working in Haiti was not the first time I have combined field work in disasters with doing my PhD. In September 2020 I worked with a WHO Emergency Medical Team in Ethiopia at a hospital for COVID-19 in Addis Ababa, and just before I began my PhD I worked with MSF in DR Congo twice.

It means a lot to me to combine my theoretical work here at KI with practical work in disaster areas. It gives me a totally different, and very practical, understanding of the subject-matter I research. Moreover, the fact that I have practical experience also makes it easier for me when I teach. And this is true not just for me, but for our whole research group".

What would you say to someone who might have the opportunity to combine their PhD with this kind of field work?

"Of course it depends on how you can adapt your PhD plan, when you take your courses and so on, but if you get the opportunity to go, you should. It helps you to see your PhD from new angles, and you get a greater overview of your subject".

What is next for you in your work?

"I am continuing to work on my PhD. I had my half-time seminar 26 January 2022 and I am going to start working on my last two studies, as well as taking a few courses this semester. In terms of more field work in disaster areas, well, we will have to see what happens and how I am able to combine it with my PhD".


Martina Gustavsson PhD student