Student profile
Olivia Luijnenburg

Olivia Luijnenburg

"I feel very lucky to have had three fabulous supervisors that regularly checked up with me, but also made me feel trusted in my abilities. My supervisors have opened many doors for me"

Entry year


Professor Rosemary Pope award

The Professor Rosemary Pope award is an annual prize within the School of Health Sciences which recognises a PhD thesis that makes a significant and outstanding contribution to the study of healthcare education and practice. In 2022, Olivia was awarded this prize.

My research

There's often an emphasis on the biomedical in health and social care. Although this is very important, I've always been interested in the human side of illness and healing processes. My PhD research project allowed me to dive into the spiritual needs of older people living in residential care. Moving into residential care can change a person’s life very much and looking for ideas on how such an experience can be made as pleasant as possible was a great privilege.

The qualitative fieldwork, spending many days in care homes and conducting interviews with care home residents and staff, was my favourite time of the research. It was very special to meet many different people, learn from them, and subsequently transfer their knowledge into recommendations for improving spiritual care in residential care for older people.

For me, the key to my research was having a goal outside myself. Rather than wanting to be the best PhD student there is, I was very keen to use the data I collected in the best way possible and create tools to innovate care and aid care practitioners. Furthermore, perseverance was key…

Surrey's research community 

The postgraduate research community at the School of Health Sciences provided great support throughout my PhD journey. It’s good to have peers to talk to and get motivated by. I followed many courses at the Doctoral College, received advice from a fantastic career advisor from Career Services, and of course, found a lot of support in my supervisors.

I feel very lucky to have had three fabulous supervisors that regularly checked up with me, but also made me feel trusted in my abilities. My supervisors have opened many doors for me by inviting me to events, giving me the opportunity to speak at conferences, chair panels, and co-organise events.

"Olivia’s resistance and creativity in undertaking her studies, together with how she responded to challenges due to the covid pandemic is illustrative of her professionalism. The quality of the data collected is also reflective of Olivia’s sensitive and insightful approach to those she works with, and is ultimately demonstrated in the quality, depths and insights demonstrated in her research."
Rosemary Pope Awards nomination statement 

Looking forward

During the fieldwork, I collected photographs of ‘artefacts’ from older residents in care homes. These artefacts could be an object, a person, a place, or anything that gave them a sense of joy, peace, wellbeing or safety. I presented these photographs in the form of a ‘Gallery of Spiritualities’ and hope to present these at many more conferences, in care homes, and perhaps also in other public spaces. The gallery so far seems to resonate with people and it's a powerful tool to open people’s minds about the complexity of what spirituality might entail for an older person living in residential care.

I’ve just graduated, and my graduation day was a very special day in my life. Celebrating on the beautiful campus and in the cathedral at Surrey made it as close to perfection as possible.

I currently work as a Research Associate at the Policy Institute of King’s College London, working on several research projects in social care. I would love to take my PhD research further and become the principal investigator of a postdoctoral project, testing the findings and recommendations from my PhD.