Professor of Communication Ashley Duggan has been awarded a senior-level Fulbright Fellowship in Medicine, and will serve as a senior scholar with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

The fellowship will enable Duggan, a faculty member at Boston College since 2004, to build on her distinctive interdisciplinary research as a social scientist who explores the intersections among interpersonal communication processes, health, and relationships. During her Fulbright year, which begins in 2023, she will work with the Centre for Positive Psychology and Health, which she notes is the only such research center in the world housed uniquely within health sciences.

Ashley Duggan

Ashley Duggan (Caitlin Cunningham)

“The Fulbright Fellowship in Medicine is the culmination of more than two decades of international, interdisciplinary research and leadership that links relationship science and human communication studies to lifestyle medicine,” said Duggan, citing two recent endeavors of particular relevance: the partnership she created between the International Communication Association and ICCH: European Association for Communication in Healthcare, and her current fellowship with the Association of Departments of Family Medicine and the North American Primary Care Research Group.

“The partnership and fellowship both serve to connect the scientific study of relationships and human communication research to health care research. Now, I will have the opportunity to connect what I’ve been doing at BC with a focus on behavior and relationships for human flourishing with lifestyle medicine, formally bringing together social science and health care. Given what we’ve all seen and experienced in the past few years with COVID, the importance of combining these disciplinary perspectives is obvious.”

The essence of her research, Duggan explained, is this: Humans tend to see illness and other health issues as abnormal, even antithetical to our existence. But the way in which humans respond to illness and health issues, and especially how we communicate with one another about them, is fundamental to understanding what makes us human.

“What interests me is that place where the biomedical meets the lived experiences of people,” said Duggan, whose appointment in family medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine enables her research on human communication processes to be integrated into the teaching and practice of clinical work in primary health care. “Who we are as relational beings is tied to how we understand health and illness. It’s vital to facilitating a long-term dialogue between health care communication and health care-related decision making.”

Boston College is a perfect fit for such scholarship because of its curricular and formational emphasis on the human condition—not to mention its proximity to Boston, a “mecca of health care,” said Duggan, who teaches in the University’s medical humanities minor and recently received an inaugural grant from the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society, where she has offered classes on subjects such as promoting trust in health care and the positive and negative aspects of telemedicine. Her students include not only communication majors but pre-med program participants and those with an interest in public health.

“At the core of this area of inquiry is the idea of recognizing people like they have value, no matter who they are,” she said. “How do we get at the stories in health care, and whose stories get told? The patient? The care provider? The patient’s family? All those perspectives are important and should be treated as such.”

Duggan noted that the Fulbright required a minimum of 15 years of demonstrated leadership in medicine, and past recipients of the fellowship include David Sklar, who founded the journal Academic Medicine, and Mark Ebell, an international leader in evidence-based medicine research.

“I’m gratified to have been selected for this honor, on a personal as well as professional level,” she said. “Being at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland is a very exciting prospect, and I feel it will lead to some very fruitful and fulfilling collaborations that build on rich relationships between Boston College and Ireland.”

Sean Smith | University Communications | April 2022