Professor Nicola Gale

Health Services Management Centre
Professor of Health Policy and Sociology
College Deputy Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange (Impact and Engagement)

Contact details

School of Social Policy, HSMC
Park House
University of Birmingham
B15 2RT, United Kingdom

Nicola Gale, MA, PhD, is a health sociologist, with a track record in both single-discipline sociological research and interdisciplinary health research where she has brought her sociological perspective and skills to projects in fields of health services research, public health, primary care, community-led and complementary health care.

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


  • 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 is now Deputy Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange for the College of Social Sciences, with specific responsibility for Impact and Engagement activity in social sciences.


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 1st 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

Completed students:


Her 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. 

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.  Currently, she is working on a number of writing and empirical projects that explore the intersections of public health (management of epidemiological risk) and primary care (responsive care) mentalities in the fields of prevention and community wellbeing. She is currently developing this through a collaboration with Dr Patrick Brown (University of Amsterdam) and others to explore and research the concept of ‘risk work’. They recently 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 longstanding interest in complementary and alternative healthcare. 

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


Pan, Z, Dickens, A, Chi, C, Kong, X, Enocson, A, Cooper, B, Adab, P, Cheng, KK, Sitch, A, Jowett, S, Adams, R, Correia-de-Sousa, J, Farley, A, Gale, N, Jolly, K, Maglakelidze , M, Maglakelidze , T, Martins , S, Stavrikj, K, Stelmach , R, Turner, A, Williams, S & Jordan, R 2021, 'Accuracy and cost-effectiveness of different screening strategies for identifying undiagnosed COPD among primary care patients (≥40 years) in China: a cross-sectional screening test accuracy study. Findings from the Breathe Well group', BMJ open.

Channa, S, Gale, N, Lai, E, Hall, L, Quinn, M & Turner, A 2021, 'Colour vision deficiency and sputum colour charts in COPD patients: an exploratory mixed-method study', Primary Care Respiratory Journal, vol. 31, no. 1, 13 .

Burrows, M, Gale, N, Greenfield, S & Litchfield, I 2020, 'A quantitative assessment of the parameters of the role of receptionists in modern primary care using the work design framework', BMC Family Practice, vol. 21, no. 1, 138.

Rayment , J, Sidhu, M, Wright, P, Brown , P, Greenfield, S, Jeffreys, S & Gale, N 2020, 'Collaboration for impact: co-creating a workforce development toolkit using an arts-based approach', International Journal of Integrated Care, vol. 20, no. 2, 11, pp. 1-10.

Gjorgjievski, D, Ristovska, R, Stavrikj, K, Farley, A, Adab, P, Adams, R, Dickens, A, Enocson, A, Stanoevski, G, Gale, N, Jowett, S, Rai, K, Sitch, A, Stamenova, A, Krstevska, E & Jordan, R 2020, 'Effectiveness of combining feedback about lung age or exhaled carbon monoxide levels with Very Brief Advice (VBA) and support for smoking cessation in primary care compared to giving VBA and support alone – protocol for a randomized controlled trial within the Breathe Well research program', Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences, vol. 8, no. E, pp. 28-36.

Sekoni, A, Jolly, K & Gale, N 2020, 'Hidden healthcare populations: using intersectionality to theorise the experiences of LGBT+ people in Nigeria, Africa', Global Public Health, vol. 2020, pp. 1-16.

Gale, N, Sidhu, M & Brown, P 2019, 'Co‐production in the epidemiological clinic: a decentred analysis of the tensions in community-based, client‐facing risk work', Social Policy and Administration, vol. 53, no. 2, pp. 203–218.

Gale, N & Sidhu, M 2019, 'Risk work or resilience work? A qualitative study with community health workers negotiating the tensions between biomedical and community-based forms of health promotion in the United Kingdom', PLoS ONE, vol. 14, no. 7, e0220109.

Bell-davies, F, Goyder, C, Gale, N, Hobbs, FDR & Taylor, CJ 2019, 'The role of informal carers in the diagnostic process of heart failure: a secondary qualitative analysis', BMC Cardiovascular Disorders, vol. 19, 92.

Gowing, C & Gale, N 2019, '‘You cannot get enough of them!’ The rise (and fall) of complementary therapies in British nursing practice in the 1980s and 1990s', Journal of Historical Sociology, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 215-231.

Gale, N, Kenyon, S, MacArthur, C, Jolly, K & Hope, L 2018, 'Synthetic social support: theorizing lay health worker interventions', Social Science & Medicine, vol. 196, pp. 96-105.

Brown, P & Gale, N 2018, 'Theorising risk work: analysing professionals’ lifeworlds and practices', Professions & Professionalism, vol. 8, no. 1, e1988.

Burrows, M, Gale, N, Greenfield, S & Litchfield, I 2017, 'Exploring the clinically orientated roles of the general practice receptionist: a systematic review protocol', Systematic Reviews, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 209.

Taylor, C, Hobbs, FDR, Marshall, T, Leyva-Leon, F & Gale, N 2017, 'From breathless to failure: symptom onset and diagnostic meaning in patients with heart failure—a qualitative study', BMJ open, vol. 7, e013648.

Taylor, C, Hobbs, FDR, Marshall, T, Leyva-Leon, F & Gale, N 2017, 'From breathless to failure: Symptom onset and diagnostic meaning in patients with heart failure: a qualitative study', BMJ open, vol. 7, e013648.

View all publications in research portal


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

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