Monash Health celebrates 2024 Emerging Researcher Fellowships and their pioneering studies

7 faces in collage of all the recipients

Header image above: (L to R, top to bottom) Cassandra Bendall, Dr Madeleine Healy, Dr James Leung, Courtney Nagle, Lauren Tomkins, Annika Ward, Sarah Wiggs.

Monash Health proudly announces the seven recipients of the 2024 Emerging Researcher Fellowships. These fellowships provide essential resources, support, and mentorship, empowering recipients to undertake innovative studies that address critical healthcare challenges and drive positive change. 

“These prestigious fellowships are one of Monash Health’s most important ways to encourage our clinicians to get involved in research and embark on studies that will make a real difference in how we work and provide care,” says Angus Henderson, General Manager of Research Strategy at Monash Health. 

The fellowships enable recipients to undertake specialised research and foster collaborations with other researchers and healthcare professionals. Their research often leads to publications and presentations, enhancing visibility and credibility, while addressing pressing healthcare issues and generating evidence-based solutions. 

For the 2024 recipients, the fellowship offers a unique opportunity to impact healthcare delivery and outcomes. Their diverse projects span fields such as paediatrics, geriatrics, medical administration, podiatry, physiotherapy, and nursing, addressing challenges from eating disorders and dementia to cystic fibrosis and stroke rehabilitation. 

The 2024 fellows and their research projects 

Cassandra Bendall, Paediatric Dietitian 

Project: Adolescent eating disorder services in Australia and New Zealand 

Cassandra aims to assess current practices among paediatric and adolescent eating disorder dietitians. The focus is aligning nutritional interventions with best-practice guidelines to improve outcomes for patients with eating disorders. This study seeks to fill the gap in understanding how nutritional management aligns with clinical practice guidelines and aims to standardise and optimise dietetic interventions within inpatient settings. 

“I’m so passionate about this project because I am always thinking of ways to improve the care we provide to our patients,” Cassandra says. Reflecting on her selection, she adds, “Finding out that I was one of the successful applicants was an exciting moment for me.” 

Dr Madeleine Healy, Geriatrician 

Project: Evaluating the feasibility of a statewide specialised cognition service for people with Down syndrome 

Dr Healy’s project focuses on developing and implementing a specialised service model for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in individuals with Down syndrome. This includes identifying evidence-based diagnostic methods that are consumer-informed and assessing the feasibility of implementing this model statewide. The study aims to improve access to timely diagnosis and care for this vulnerable population. 

She notes, “When I became the clinical lead for the Cognitive, Dementia and Memory Service, I was astonished to learn that there are no specialist cognitive services for people with Down syndrome who may have emerging dementia, despite 95% of people with Down syndrome eventually developing Alzheimer’s disease.”  

Dr James Leung, Medical Administration Registrar 

Project: The interdisciplinary nightly cadence 

Dr Leung is leading a quality improvement project at Monash Medical Centre to enhance interdisciplinary communication, leadership, and teamwork among junior medical staff during night shifts. The goal is to create a structured framework that supports these staff members in providing safer, more effective patient care during night hours, addressing current clinical leadership and communication gaps. 

“I wanted to show that if we can support our staff with efficient systems and processes, we can optimise how we deliver patient care,” Dr Leung explains. He added, “The most exciting part of this project is that it is a collaboration between clinicians, and it is expected to evolve based on the experiences and feedback from the junior medical staff.” 

Courtney Nagle, Podiatrist 

Project: Consensus on the provision of patient education for adults with diabetes-related foot ulceration: a Delphi study of Australian stakeholders 

Courtney’s research focuses on establishing consensus among Australian stakeholders regarding essential elements of patient education for adults with diabetes-related foot ulcers. Through a study involving both consumers (patients) and healthcare experts, the project aims to define optimal educational content and delivery methods. The goal is to improve patient outcomes by enhancing knowledge and self-care practices related to foot ulcer management. 

“Receiving this fellowship marks a significant milestone in my professional journey as a clinician-researcher, and I am eager to begin this exciting new chapter,” Courtney explains. Commenting on the process of the fellowship she remarks, “Despite the challenges, the experience was incredibly valuable, providing me with the essential skills and insights for future grant applications.” 

Lauren Tomkins, Physiotherapist 

Project: The threshold study: examining the physiological effects of threshold positive expiratory pressure in adults with cystic fibrosis 

Lauren’s research project will evaluate the physiological effects, safety, and feasibility of using Threshold Positive Expiratory Pressure (PEP) devices in adults with cystic fibrosis (CF). This study involves assessing lung function and patient feedback to determine the device’s efficacy in improving cough control and mucus clearance compared to traditional physiotherapy techniques.  

She states, “I know obtaining a fellowship is highly competitive, and I am honoured to be recognised as a suitable candidate.” Lauren adds, “I am keen to find out whether the data obtained in this study can inform why the Threshold PEP device is effective for cough control and mucus clearance in individuals with cystic fibrosis.” 

Annika Ward, Neurosciences Physiotherapist 

Project: Does the Trunk Impairment Scale help predict independent discharge mobility in stroke survivors undergoing inpatient rehabilitation? 

Annika’s project investigates whether the Trunk Impairment Scale (TISv) can predict discharge mobility outcomes in stroke survivors undergoing inpatient rehabilitation. By analysing the relationship between TISv scores on admission and Functional Independence Measure (FIM) scores at discharge, the study aims to enhance the accuracy of prognosis and discharge planning for stroke patients. This research aims to improve patient outcomes by providing physiotherapy teams with better goal-setting and treatment planning tools. 

Sarah Wiggs, Clinical Nurse Specialist 

Project: The standard of peripheral intravenous catheter care in Monash Health emergency departments 

Sarah’s research evaluates the adherence to peripheral intravenous catheter care standards within Monash Health Emergency Departments. This includes assessing current practices, identifying deviations from best practices outlined in clinical care standards, and proposing recommendations for improving patient care and outcomes.  

She shares, “The research project is fascinating to me. Many people who present to ED have either a blood test or a cannula inserted. I’d love to be part of the literature that informs best practices.” Reflecting on the fellowship, Sarah says, “Being awarded the fellowship has meant a lot to my confidence in my research career.” 

The 2024 Emerging Researcher Fellowships highlight Monash Health’s commitment to advancing medical knowledge and improving patient care. These outstanding clinicians will lead the way in healthcare innovation, driving meaningful advancements within their respective fields. 


For more information on the fellowship winners, and the process to apply check out the Emerging Researcher Fellowships page.


Approved by Angus Henderson, General Manager of Research Strategy.