Ashley Heaslip

Intimacy, Sexuality and End-of-Life Illness Experience: Patient, Partner and Health Care Provider Perspectives
Dr. Susan Cox, Dr. Becki Ross, Dr. David Kuhl, Dr. Arthur Frank

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I decided to pursue my doctoral studies because of the patients that I was working with during my medical training. Many of these patients would ask questions for which I had few answers and for which the research literature was lacking. It is my hope that my doctoral work will translate in to contributions to clinical care, as well as to how we, as a society, understand the health care needs of our aging population. 

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

Studying at UBC has meant being in a world-class university in a world-class city – and being close to home! It is the perfect mixture of exceptional mentors, strong research supports, and the Pacific Ocean! 

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

The Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies Program offers a rich learning environment where scholars from many diverse backgrounds gather around the same table to dialogue, to challenge one another, and to creatively imagine new ways of seeing problems. It is this rich, diverse environment that drew me in and that I have found so intriguing.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

The best surprise for me about both UBC and Vancouver is the strong cycling culture – it’s been so wonderful to cycle up to campus, to meet others along the way to share a conversation with while riding, and to know that there are so many advocates in Vancouver working to encourage and support biking!

What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I am deeply curious about the diverse backgrounds and research interests of students within the Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies Program. I always learn something new from my conversation with colleagues about the program because their research interests may be vastly different from my own. It makes for rich and creative conversations!


Learn more about Ashley's research

Sexuality and intimacy are central aspects of human life. Despite a recent movement towards approaching medical care from a holistic perspective, sexuality and intimacy are often excluded from our understanding of the individual as a whole. This is especially true within palliative care settings where a patient’s sexuality may appear less imperative than their physical health needs. 

In order to better address the complex needs of patients, this proposed two-phase qualitative and arts-based study will examine patient, partner and health care provider perspectives on intimacy and sexuality at end of life. Several key questions will be addressed: 

  1. How do patients and patient’s partners understand their own bodies, intimacy and sexuality through their illness experience? 
  2. How are the sexual identities of patients affected by the dying process and palliative care environments? 
  3. How do these environments need to be modified in order to enable healthy, respectful, intimate spaces at end-of-life? 

This qualitative study will utilize narrative and arts-based methodologies. 

This work will serve to broaden the conversation around ‘healthy dying’ and ‘whole-person’ end-of-life care, the ethics of research approaches to sensitive topics, and aging studies. It will contribute to the development of patient-centered knowledge translation tools emphasizing an individual’s desire to live fully even as they are dying. Finally, it will enrich and fill an important and evolving gap within interdisciplinary sexuality studies.