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Profile: Carrie Falling

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Carrie Falling, PhD candidate, talks about her research on chronic musculoskeletal pain in people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

ANews0619 Carrie Falling at Dartmouth 650px
Carrie Falling conducting research at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in the USA.

How long will you be at Dartmouth College?

Last year, I was a recipient of the MacGibbon PhD Travel Fellowship (Division of Health Sciences), which is funded by the Alumni of Otago in America Inc. This scholarship allows PhD candidates to travel to the US for up to six months to undertake activities related to their PhD. I chose to come to Dartmouth to conduct the final study for my PhD – so I am here for six months doing data collection at the Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC). I arrived in January and returned to Dunedin at the end of July.

Why did you choose to go there?

There are a few answers to this question. One of my PhD advisors is Professor Richard Gearry (UoO Christchurch). He is a long-time friend and colleague of Dr Corey Siegel (Section Chief of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and Co-Director of the IBD Center here at DHMC). So, it was through Dr Gearry that I was able to develop a working relationship with Dr Siegel in support of my fellowship application.

That being said, DHMC is the largest of its kind north of Boston – servicing the whole of the New England region of the US. The medical resources and research performed at DHMC is cutting edge and covers the full spectrum of healthcare.

The IBD Center at DHMC is one of the only centres this size that offers comprehensive care – including gastroenterologists (GI), GI nurse practitioners, GI nurses, dieticians, GI psychologists, surgeons, GI specific research, etc. So once I received an invitation to come conduct my research here, it was an absolute no-brainer!

What are you studying and how is the research progressing?

I am conducting the final study for my PhD. My research is trying to understand why patients with IBD often develop chronic musculoskeletal pain. We know chronic musculoskeletal pain is very common in IBD, but we don’t understand why it develops and persists. So, I have come to DHMC to collect data on IBD patients in the hope that we can better understand this major health problem, and hopefully make steps toward identifying treatment strategies that improve patient’s quality of life.

My research is going very well. The IBD team (from administrators to specialists to patients) have been overwhelming supportive and welcoming to me. I am humbled by their willingness to engage in my research, and help this project to be a success. They truly operate as a family, and I have been accepted as part of their tribe.

You are an Alumni of America scholarship winner - how has that helped with your studies?

The scholarship has allowed me not only to attend a national pain conference (American Pain Society) where I presented my research and networked with leaders in pain research, but it has also supported my time here at DHMC. In truth – it is one of the reasons I was able to stay for the full six months.

Have all your studies so far been at Otago?

In 2000, I graduated from Anderson University (USA) with a Bachelor’s of Fine Art. My major course of study was studio glass art with a concentration in sculpture. I have also undertaken other qualifications – to include Digestive Health Specialist (Food Enzyme Institute – USA) and Licensed Massage Therapist (Massage Therapy Institute – USA). Finally, I graduated from the University of Otago with a Bachelor’s of Physiotherapy (Hons) in 2014.

Why did you choose to study IBD for your PhD?

After I graduated in 2014, I went into private practice as a physio – where a large percentage of my patients suffered from chronic pain (for one reason or another), including patients with IBD. Unfortunately, there is very little to no guidance on how to treat patients with IBD and musculoskeletal pain. Which, as a clinician, leaves you feeling like you are throwing darts in the dark, hoping you hit your target.

Incidentally, I learned that NZ has been in the top ranked countries for growing incidence rates of IBD in the world for more than a decade! So, it was likely that I would continue to run into this problem in my practice. One day I was catching up with Dr Ram Mani, who was my undergraduate honour’s supervisor. I began sharing some of these frustrations with him – and from that a PhD topic was born!

What’s your background where are you from?

I am originally from Alabama (USA), however I more recently lived in Chicago where I had a sport massage therapy and digestive health practice. Upon craving a change in our lifestyle, and a bit of adventure, my husband and I packed up and moved to New Zealand in 2011. We have since become NZ residents and now consider this wonderful country our home.

Anything else that you’d like to add?

Last year I gave a podcast interview on my research with Joe Tatta from the Integrative Pain Science Institute in New York, which explains in greater detail my research. Carrie Falling's podcast interview

The AUOA MacGibbon PHD Fellowship in Human Health and Related Vectors Fund was established with a bequest from Dr John Butler MacGibbon. Dr MacGibbon was a proud and committed alumnus of the University of Otago who had lived for many years in the United States, where he worked as a specialist in tropical medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.