Sofia Sveréus, PhD student at the Medical Management Centre (MMC)

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Sofia Sveréus is the hard core social scientist who hesitated to go into research as she did not want to fixate on one subject for too long. This was before she realized that she was already trapped and had just scratched the surface of what she wanted to learn. That’s when she went all in. By now she has been a doctoral student for about one year.

Sofia has been working at KI and LIME since 2011, initially as an health economist employed by the Centre of Health Economy, Informatics and Health care research (CHIS) with in Stockholm County Council (SLL), but affiliated and situated at LIME. In 2014 an opportunity to do research within a doctoral project similar to the subject she was working with was given. She seized it and was registered as a doctoral student at LIME in January 2015.

Doctoral studies were never an obvious choice for Sofia. She calls herself a hardcore social scientist who have studied a little bit of everything. Soon she realized that health care issues is an interesting focus if you have an interest in social issues and social structures, given its dynamics and impact on all societal levels. That insight led her to public health studies, where she realized that she would probably also need a little bit of economy. Thus she added national economy to her public health studies, and followed up with the master’s programme in public health science with focus on health economy at KI.

She started working with KI/SLL right after she got her bachelor degree, and thus got her master’s degree while working with them. After three years the possibility to apply for a doctoral project Health Economics and Policy research group emerged. So what made her apply? Sofia never thought of herself as a researcher and was a somewhat afraid of what it would mean to focus on one particular topic for as long as four years.

”But then I realized that I had already worked for three years doing just that and I still enjoyed it!”

She felt that she had just scratched the surface of what she wanted to learn.

”So perhaps it was meant to be. Maybe I am a nerd. Maybe I am meant to do research, I just did not realize it. But when I did realize it I felt, OK, let’s do this.”

Clas Rehnberg, professor in health economy is Sofia’s supervisor. She respects him highly and according to her his main quality, as a supervisor is that he puts a great deal of trust and responsibility in his doctoral students from the very start.

Sofia’s thesis is about how primary care is distributed among individuals of different socio-economic backgrounds, especially in association with different forms of health care reforms. She enjoys working with an area that is of great interest to many – is health care equal or not?

”What’s unique with my doctoral project is that we have gathered primary care data from five counties, among them Stockholm, Västra Götaland and Skåne, to facilitate the possibility to get an overview of how primary care is distributed among different social groups”, Sofia explains.

One of the challenges she is facing is the problem with follow-ups when it comes primary care in Sweden as there are no national record of visits, diagnoses etc..

Swedish primary care has gone through major chances the past years. The “choice of health care” reform, vårdval, meant more primary care centres and an increased number of visits, especially within Stockholm county. Thus it is of interest not just to get a snapshot of the distribution, but also to follow over time to identify specific changes that occur in the wake of these kind of reforms.

”It is interesting over all, and specifically since so many organisational changes have occurred the past few years”, she thinks.

So how is Sofia doing? Well, she thinks, but adds that she is still in the beginning. It easy to believe that once you are registered you are good to go. But the data collecting process, identifying common definitions that reflects reality etc. is time consuming.

”There are so many little things that you have to get through before you really can get started”, she explains.

Sofia often gets the comment that it must be so nice to work with record data and quantitative methods. That everything is set, there is only one right answer, you just press the button, do an analysis and out comes a result that with exact accuracy tells you this or that. According to Sofia that is absolutely not the case.

”To collect data from five different counties with five different data collection methods…there is an uncertainty in establishing a correct common definition from existing data that you cannot influence. You have to try to create something that is actually comparable e.g. that a doctor’s visit is just that and nothing else. That causes uncertainty and considerations. That is one of the things. The next question is what to do with the information. Will you get different answers to your question depending on how you present the data or depending on which analysis you chose?”

So far Sofia did not get stuck. Since she has worked a couple of years and has an experienced supervisor, they knew what was coming an planned for a slow start.

”We planned for some crisis”, she says smiling. “Without my working experience I would probably have expected a smoother start and I would already be lag in my time plan.”

Her time plan for the doctoral education is not connected to her employment at SLL, but the idea is that she will deliver results from her research to SLL. Sofia finds having a dialogue about her results with a forum outside the academic world, such as public officials and politicians in the county council, stimulating. That and getting the results out right away.

Sofia’s advice to future doctoral students:

One important thing is to keep focus on the fact that it is an education. There will be hardships along the way, but if you keep your focus on the learning, Sofia thinks that that could be a tool to bridge the ups and downs.

”That being said, since my employment is so close to my doctoral education, it is a great challenge for me to actually see is as a learning process”, she admits.

She does work actively with her learning goals (which are set up at the beginning) to force herself to focus on the learning.

Additional advice:

Plan and count on a slow start.
Dare to ask for help, whatever the dimension! You can’t be an expert of everything (“I’m really not good at it myself but I’m working on it….”)
Take time off. In the summer, weekends. The project will take over your life if you let it!

Sofia plans her half-time to the fall of 2017.