Professor Nicola Gale

Professor Nicola Gale

Health Services Management Centre
Head of the School of Social Policy
Professor of Health Policy and Sociology, Health Services Management Centre

Contact details

School of Social Policy
Muirhead Tower
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Nicola Gale, MA, PhD, is a health sociologist and interdisciplinary health researcher, working in the fields of health services research, public health, primary care, community-led and complementary health care. She specialises in qualitative and mixed methods research.

Professor Gale is committed to theoretically-informed empirical work that involves, aids better understanding of, and meets the needs of a diverse population.

She is currently Head of the School of Social Policy, and Co-Director of Confronting Antimicrobial Resistance (CARe).


  • PhD Sociology, University of Warwick (2007)
  • Postgraduate Teaching Award for Research Fellows (2006)
  • MA Sociological Research in Health Care (2002)
  • BA (Hons) Politics and Sociology, University of Warwick (2001) 


Nicola grew up in London, UK, and then spent her University years at the University of Warwick. She developed an early interest in sociology and social policy in the health field. After completing her Masters, she secured an ESRC doctoral fellowship to complete her PhD at Warwick on the training of complementary and alternative medical practitioners. The thesis, entitled ‘Knowing the body and embodying knowledge’ contributed to the fields of embodied sociology, the sociology of knowledge and the sociology of health and healthcare.

She moved back to London, and worked at the University of Westminster, teaching Public Health and taking up a Research Fellow position in the iCAM Unit (integrating complementary and alternative medicine), where she worked on a number of projects related to clinical governance and safety in CAM practice. During this time, she also held a Visiting Lecturer position at Birkbeck, University of London, where she taught Health Policy and Public Health. In 2009, she moved back to the Midlands, to take up a Research Fellow position at the School of Health and Population Sciences at the University of Birmingham, working for the NIHR Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLARHC) for Birmingham and the Black Country. She was the lead for the qualitative workstreams in four of the CLAHRC themes. At Birmingham, she set up CAMBRA - the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Birmingham Research Alliance, which has members from across the University, local NHS Trust and Third Sector organisations.

In January 2013, she moved to the Health Services Management Centre in the School of Social Policy, where is now Professor of Health Policy and Sociology. In addition to her research interests (see below), she has been leading work developing the University’s inclusive education and postgraduate research activity for a number of years. She has held the roles of Director of Postgraduate Research and Deputy Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange (Impact and Engagement) for the College of Social Sciences.

She is currently the Head of the School of Social Policy.  


Dr Gale has an interest in higher education research. Her main areas of interest are:

Inclusive teaching and learning practice

She co-leads, with her colleague Dr Nicki Ward, a university-wide project on LGBTQ-inclusive higher education. She is also co-chair of the University’s Inclusive Education Committee.

As part of this work we set up the LGBTQ inclusivity in Higher Education (@LGBTQinHE) network, which now runs an annual international conference.

Arts-based approaches

She has collaborated with local and international artists to develop 'arts-based co-design' approaches to developing learning materials to approach difficult and sensitive subjects, such as a death and dying, in vocational training programmes, such as medicine, law, nursing and social work.

The modules she has convened include:


Masters in Public Health/Primary Care (College of Medical and Dental Sciences)

  • Qualitative Research Methods
  • Sociology and Social Policy 

Masters in Health Policy and Management (College of Social Sciences)

  • People, Patients and Communities


BA Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology (College of Social Sciences)

  • Sociology of Health and Illness 

Widening Horizons (open to all 1 year undergraduates)

  • Gender and Sexual Diversity: international and interdisciplinary perspective on LGBTQ+ identities

Postgraduate supervision

Nicola is interested in supervising postgraduate researchers in any of the following areas:

  • Preventative health care policy (especially using risk work theory)
  • Sociology of health and healing (especially complementary and alternative medicine)
  • Sociology of work and professions (especially embodied forms of learning, lay health workers)
  • Gender and sexuality (especially around LGBTQ health inequalities)
  • Sociology of the body and embodiment (especially body work theory)
  • Interdisciplinary and applied health research, using qualitative methods

Please do feel free to get in contact, with a research proposal and CV, if you are interested in working with Nicola to complete your PhD research.

Current students

  • Garry Cooper-Stanton (institutional-funded PhD): Male Mask & Monologue: Voices from the silent minority within lymphoedema
  • Angela Hicks (self-funded PhD): Exploring the health and wellbeing of long-term acupuncture patients in the West
  • Bandar Faqihi (PhD, funded by national programme): Ward-based vs. critical care Non-invasive ventilation for obesity-related Acute Hypoxemic Respiratory Failure (AHRF): a feasibility study
  • Ketan Patel (NIHR funded MD): Integration of care for COPD patients
  • Emily Harle (self-funded MRes): Experience of sex education in schools from a sex positivity theoretical perspective
  • Dandan Wu (self-funded MRes): Reproductive choices for LBT+ women in the UK
  • Julie Werrett (institution funded PhD): Evaluation of England's first dedicated LGBT health and wellbeing centre
  • Alexander Alich (self-funded PhD): Shamanism, Safety and Risk: an ethnography of emerging shamanic practice and culture

Completed students:


Professor Gale’s core substantive research interest is health care practice and the everyday work of professionals, para-professionals, complementary and lay healthcare workers, particularly those working in community and primary care settings. She applies her social science approach to a range of health fields, including respiratory medicine and antibiotic use/antimicrobial resistance. She is currently the Co-Director of the interdisciplinary group Confronting Antimicrobial Resistance (CARe).

Theoretically, her work cuts across the sociology of health and illness, embodied sociology, the sociology of work and professions, and health policy and implementation.  Her contribution in these fields has been to explicate the different kinds of ‘work’ involved in forms of healthcare and the implications of this for the wider health system and health policy.  She has drawn on and developed post-phenomenological scholarship that seeks to attach sense-making processes to power, embodiment and/or socio-cultural structures.  For example, her explorations of ‘body work’ (work that involves direct interaction with the bodies of others) has revealed issues about the knowledge base of practices (i.e. largely embodied knowledge) and their value in the system, the professional identity and aspiration of practitioners, as well as the power relationships and working conditions that result from this. She has a longstanding collaboration with Dr Patrick Brown (University of Amsterdam) to explore and research the concept of ‘risk work’. They have edited a special edition of Health, Risk and Society on this topic.

A secondary but significant interest has been patient experience, particularly self-management of long term conditions and survivorship, and public involvement in health care, with specific reference to working with seldom-heard groups.  She has a particular interest in the use and practice of traditional, complementary and alternative medicines.  

Methodologically, she specialises in place-based and embodied empirical methods such as ethnography, shadowing, and auto-ethnography. She coined the term ‘situated interviewing’ to describe a method of interviewing that drew on these principles but was also feasible within applied health research projects. She also has a particular interest in the use of methods, such as Framework and qualitative meta-synthesis, that she argues have greater potential to inform policy and clinical practice. Her work has included contributions to evidence synthesis and health technology assessments, particularly where alternative approaches to assess attribution are required because (R)CT evidence is not available.

Her research has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research, the Wellcome Trust, the Health Foundation, Public Health England, the Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness, Universitas 21 and Cancer Research UK.


Recent publications


Fernandes, G, Williams, S, Adab, P, Gale, N, de Jong, C, Correia-de-Sousa, J, Cheng, KK, Chi, C, Cooper, BG, Dickens, AP, Enocson, A, Farley, A, Jolly, K, Jowett, S, Maglakelidze, M, Maghlakelidze, T, Martins, S, Sitch, A, Stamenova, A, Stavrikj, K, Stelmach, R, Turner, A, Pan, Z, Pang, H, Zhang, J & Jordan, RE 2024, 'Engaging stakeholders to level up COPD care in LMICs: lessons learned from the "Breathe Well" programme in Brazil, China, Georgia, and North Macedonia', BMC Health Services Research, vol. 24, no. 1, 66.

Patel, K, Smith, DJ, Huntley, CC, Channa, S, Pye, A, Dickens, AP, Gale, N & Turner, A 2024, 'Exploring the causes of COPD misdiagnosis in primary care: A mixed methods study', PLOS One, vol. 19, no. 3, e0298432.

Yannamani, P & Gale, NK 2024, 'The ebbs and flows of empathy: a qualitative study of surgical trainees in the UK', BMC Medical Education, vol. 24, no. 1, 131.

Litchfield, I, Gale, N, Burrows, M & Greenfield, S 2023, '"You're only a receptionist, what do you want to know for?": Street-level bureaucracy on the front line of primary care in the United Kingdom', Heliyon, vol. 9, no. 11, e21298.

Kaur, D, Mehta, RL, Jarrett, H, Jowett, S, Gale, N, Turner, A, Spiteri, M & Patel, N 2023, 'Phase III, two arm, multi-centre, open label, parallel-group randomised designed clinical investigation of the use of a personalised early warning decision support system to predict and prevent acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: ‘Predict & Prevent AECOPD’ – study protocol', BMJ open, vol. 13, no. 3, e061050.

Asamane, EA, Quinn, L, Watson, SI, Lilford, RJ, Hemming, K, Sidibe, C, Rego, RT, Bensassi, S, Diarra, Y, Diop, S, Gautam, OP, Islam, MS, Jackson, L, Jolly, K, Kayentao, K, Koita, O, Manjang, B, Tebbs, S, Gale, N, Griffiths, PL, Cairncross, S, Toure, O & Manaseki-Holland, S 2023, 'Protocol for a parallel group, two-arm, superiority cluster randomised trial to evaluate a community-level complementary-food safety and hygiene and nutrition intervention in Mali: the MaaCiwara study (version 1.3; 10 November 2022)', Trials, vol. 24, no. 1, 68.

Gjorgjievski, D, Stavrikj, K, Jordan, R, Adab, P, Stanoevski, G, Stamenova, A, Krstevska, E, Simonovska, S, Trpcheski, F, Adams, R, Easter, C, Rai, K, Cheng, KK, Chi, C, Cooper, BG, Correia-de-Sousa, J, Dickens, AP, Enocson, A, Gale, N, Jolly, K, Jowett, S, Maglakelidze, M, Maghlakelidze, T, Martins, S, Sitch, A, Stelmach, R, Turner, A, Williams, S & Farley, A 2023, 'Randomised controlled trial testing effectiveness of feedback about lung age or exhaled CO combined with very brief advice for smoking cessation compared to very brief advice alone in North Macedonia: findings from the Breathe Well group', BMC Public Health, vol. 23, no. 1, 1887.

Cooper-Stanton, GR, Gale, N, Sidhu, M & Allen, K 2022, 'A qualitative systematic review and meta-aggregation of the experiences of men diagnosed with chronic lymphoedema', Journal of Research in Nursing.

Martins, SM, Dickens, A, Salibe-Filho , W, Albuquerque Neto , AA, Adab, P, Enocson, A, Cooper, BG, Sousa, LVA, Sitch, A, Jowett, S, Adams, R, Cheng, KK, Chi, C, Correia-de-Sousa, J, Farley, A, Gale, N, Jolly, K, Maglakelidze, M, Maghlakelidze, T, Stavrikj, K, Turner, A, Williams, S, Jordan, R & Stelmach, R 2022, 'Accuracy and economic evaluation of different screening tests and their combinations for undiagnosed COPD among people with hypertension in Brazil', NPJ Primary Care Respiratory Medicine, vol. 32, 55 .

Pang, H, Pan, Z, Adams, R, Duncan, E, Chi, C, Kong, X, Adab, P, Cheng, KK, Cooper, B, Correia-de-Sousa, J, Dickens, A, Enocson, A, Farley, A, Gale, N, Jolly, K, Jowett, S, Maglakelidze, M, Maglakelidze, T, Martins, S, Sitch, A, Stavrikj, K, Stelmach, R, Turner, A, Williams, S & Jordan, R 2022, 'Community lung health service design for COPD patients in China by the Breathe Well group', NPJ Primary Care Respiratory Medicine, vol. 32, no. 1, 27.

Maglakelidze , M, Kurua, I, Maglakelidze, N, Maglakelidze, T, Chkhaidze, I, Gogvadze, K, Chkhaidze, N, Beadle, H, Redden-Rowley, K, Adab, P, Adams, R, Chi, C, Cheng, KK, Cooper, B, Correia-de-Sousa, J, Dickens, A, Enocson, A, Farley, A, Gale, N, Jowett, S, Martins, SM, Rai, K, Sitch, A, Stavrikj, K, Stelmach , R, Turner, A, Williams, S, Jordan, R & Jolly, K 2022, 'Feasibility of a pulmonary rehabilitation programme for patients with symptomatic chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in Georgia: a single site, randomized controlled trial from the Breathe Well Group', BMJ open, vol. 12, no. 9, e056902.

Litchfield, I, Burrows, M, Gale, N & Greenfield, S 2022, 'Understanding the invisible workforce: lessons for general practice from a survey of receptionists', BMC Primary Care, vol. 23, no. 1, 230 .


McKenna, M & Gale, N 2022, Tensions within the public encounter: Balancing individual and population health risks. in P Hupe (ed.), The Politics of the Public Encounter: What Happens When Citizens Meet the State. 1 edn, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., pp. 170-188.


Watson, SI, Asamane, EA, Lilford, RJ, Hemming, K, Sidibe, C, Rego, RT, Bensassi, S, Diarra, A, Diarra, Y, Diop, S, Gautam, OP, Islam, MS, Jackson, L, Jolly, K, Kayentao, K, Koita, O, Manjang, B, Tebbs, S, Gale, N, Griffiths, P, Cairncross, S, Toure, O & Manaseki-Holland, S 2022 'Protocol for a cluster randomised trial to evaluate a community-level complementary-food safety and hygiene and nutrition intervention in Mali: The MaaCiwara study (version 1.2; 31 March 2022)' Research Square.

Review article

Gale, NK, Ahmed, K, Diarra, NH, Manaseki-Holland, S, Asamane, E, Sidibé, CS, Touré, O, Wilson, M & Griffiths, P 2024, 'Coproduced, arts interventions for nurturing care (0-5 years) in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs): a realist review', BMJ open, vol. 14, no. 5, e083093.

View all publications in research portal


  • Patient experience of illness
  • Use of complementary therapies
  • Public involvement in health care