Dr Nicola Gale

Dr Nicola Gale

Health Services Management Centre
Reader in Health Sociology and Policy
College Director of Postgraduate Research

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.

Dr 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, where she is a Senior Lecturer in Health Sociology. In addition to her research interests, she is involved in developing the University’s Inclusive Education agenda and is the Director of Postgraduate Research for the College of 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)

  • Public and User Involvement 


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 Director of Postgraduate Research for the College of Social Sciences.  She is interested in supervising postgraduate researchers in any of her research areas.  Please do feel free to get in contact, with a research proposal, if you are interested in working with her to complete your PhD research.

  • Julie Werrett (self-funded): Evaluation of England's first dedicated LGBT health and wellbeing centre
  • Sekoni AdeKemi oluwayemisi (funded by the College of Medicine, Lagos, Nigeria): Assessing the sexual healthcare needs of LGBT people in Nigeria - provider and user perspectives
  • Michael Burrows (funded by the Health Foundation): The use of process improvement methodologies to better equip receptionists for their clinical role in General Practice
  • Alexander Alich (self-funded): Shamanism and Safety 


  • Manbinder Sidhu (NIHR funded): self-management of chronic disease in ethnically-diverse communities.
  • Rowena Yeats (NIHR funded): Staff wellbeing during service redesign
  • Cathy Shneerson (NIHR funded): Self-management practices of cancer survivors
  • Clare Taylor (NIHR funded): Diagnosis and management of heart failure in primary care
  • Christine Gowing (self-funded): History of complementary medicine in nursing 


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.



Brown, P. & Gale, N. (2018) Developing a sociology of risk work in client-facing contexts: an editorial, Health, Risk & Society, 20:1-2, 1-12, DOI: 10.1080/13698575.2018.1445072

Brown, P., & Gale, N. (2018). Theorising risk work: Analysing professionals’ lifeworlds and practices. Professions and Professionalism, 8(1), 1988.

Gale, N. K., Kenyon, S., MacArthur, C., Jolly, K., & Hope, L. (2018). Synthetic social support: Theorizing lay health worker interventions. Social Science & Medicine196, 96-105. 


Burrows M, Gale NK, Greenfield S, Litchfield I (2017) Exploring the clinically orientated roles of the general practice receptionist: a systematic review protocol; Systematic Reviews 6:209; https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-017-0612-6

Henshall C, Gale NK & Greenfield S (2017) Typologies for restructuring relationships in cancer survivorship: temporal changes in social support and engagement with self-management practices, Cancer Nursing. (online in advance) doi: 10.1097/NCC.0000000000000538

Sekoni, A. O., Gale, N. K., Manga‐Atangana, B., Bhadhuri, A., & Jolly, K. (2017). The effects of educational curricula and training on LGBT‐specific health issues for healthcare students and professionals: a mixed‐method systematic review. Journal of the International AIDS Society20(1).

Gale NK*, Dowswell G, Greenfield S, Marshall T (2017) Street-level diplomacy? Communicative and adaptive work at the front line of implementing public health policies in primary care.  Social Science & Medicine, 177:9-18.

Taylor, C. J., Hobbs, F. D. R., 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, 7(3), e013648.

Taylor, C. J., Ryan, R., Nichols, L., Gale, N., Hobbs, F. D., & Marshall, T. (2017). Survival following a diagnosis of heart failure in primary care. Family practice, 34(2), 161-168. 


Henshall C, Gale NK, Greenfield S  (2016) The role of self-management practices as mechanisms for re-establishing normality in cancer survivor’. Qualitative Health Research, doi: 10.1177/1049732316651252.

Litchfield I, Gale N, Burrows M, Greenfield S. (2016) A Protocol for using mixed methods and process improvement methodologies to explore primary care receptionist work. BMJ Open.  doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-013240.

Kenyon SL, Johns N, Duggal S, Hewston R, Gale N (2016) Improving the care pathway for women who request Caesarean section: an experience-based co-design study. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. DOI: 10.1186/s12884-016-1134-2.

Sidhu M, Kokab F, Jolly K, Gale N, Marshall T, Gill P (2016) Methodological challenges of cross-language qualitative research with South Asian communities living in the UK" Family Medicine and Community Health. dx.doi.org/10.15212/FMCH.2015.0146 (online first).

Sidhu, MS, Griffith, L., Jolly, K., Gill, P., Marshall, T., & Gale, N. K. (2016). Long-term conditions, self-management and systems of support: an exploration of health beliefs and practices within the Sikh community, Birmingham, UK. Ethnicity & Health, online first, 1-17. dx.doi.org/10.1080/13557858.2015.1126560.


Brown, H, Wyatt, S, Croft, S, Gale, N, Turner, A and Mulla, A (2015), Scoping the future. An evaluation of endoscopy capacity across the NHS in England. A report for Cancer Research UK, September 2015.

Brown, H., Hewison, A., Gale, N., Snelling, I. and Shneerson, C. (2015) Every patient a research patient? Evaluating the current state of research in the NHS. A report for Cancer Research UK, May 2015.

Gale, N. K. and McHale, J. V. (eds) (2015) Routledge Handbook of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Perspectives from Social Science and Law. Routledge.

Shneerson, C*, Taskila, T, Greenfield, S, Gale, NK (2015, online first), 'A Survey Investigating the Associations Between Self-Management Practices and Quality of Life in Cancer Survivors,', Supportive Care in Cancer. 23(9): 2655-2662.

Shneerson, C. L. and Gale, N. K. (2015) Using Mixed Methods to Identify and Answer Clinically Relevant Research Questions, Qualitative Health Research 25(6): 845 – 856. doi: 10.1177/1049732315580107

Sidhu, M, Gale, N, Gill, P, Marshall, T and Jolly, K (2015) A critique of the design, implementation, and delivery of a culturally-tailored self-management education intervention: a qualitative evaluation, BMC Health Services Research, 15(1), 54.

Sidhu, M, Kokab, F, Jolly, K, Gale, N, Marshall, T and Gill, P (in press) Methodological challenges of cross-language qualitative research.

Sidhu, M, Griffith, L, Jolly, K, Marshall, T, Gill, P, Gale, NK* (in press) - Chronic disease, self-management and systems of support: An exploration of health beliefs and practices within the Sikh community, Birmingham, UK. Ethnicity and Health.


Gale, N K  (2014), How can you make a career as a complementary therapist?, Dissemination Report, ‘Putting Embodied Knowledge Into Practice’ (ES/J002828/1). Birmingham: Health Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham.

Brown, H., Ellins, J., Jackson, O., Gale, N., Sawbridge, Y. and Morton, D. (2014) An evaluation of cancer surgery services in the UK. A report for Cancer Research UK by the Health Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham, and ICF – GHK consulting, February 2014.

Gale, N., Shapiro, J., McLeod, H. S.T., Redwood, S. and Hewison, A. (2014) Patients-people-place: developing a framework for researching organizational culture during health service redesign and change, Implementation Science. doi:10.1186/s13012-014-0106-z

Lord, L. & Gale, NK (2014) Subjective Experience or Objective Process: understanding the gap between values and practice for involving patients in designing patient-centred care. Journal of Health Organization and Management, 28 (6).

Gale, N. (2014) The Sociology of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Sociology Compass, 8: 805–822. doi: 10.1111/soc4.12182

Shneerson, C., Barlett, D., Lord, J. and Gale, N. (2014) Supporting Healthy Ageing: training multi-disciplinary healthcare students. European Journal of Integrative Medicine, Vol. 6 (1): 104 – 111.


Gale, N., Heath, G., Cameron, E., Rashid, S., Redwood, S. (2013) Using the Framework Method For the Analysis of Qualitative Data in Multi-disciplinary Health Research. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 13: 117

Hewison A, Gale NK, Yeats R, Shapiro J (2013) ‘An evaluation of staff engagement programmes in four National Health Service Acute Trusts’. Journal of Health Organisation and Management, Vol. 27 (1): 85 – 105.

Shneerson C, Taskila T, Gale NK, Greenfield S & Chen YF (in press) ‘The effect of complementary and alternative medicine on the quality of life of cancer survivors: A systematic review and meta-analyses’. Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

Gale, NK and Sultan, H. (2013) Telehealth as ‘peace of mind’: embodiment, emotions and the home as the primary health space for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Health and Place, 21: 140 – 147.


Gale NK, Marshall T, Bramley G (2012) Starting and staying on preventative medication for cardiovascular disease. Current Opinion in Cardiology. DOI:10.1097/HCO.0b013e328356dae5. 
Kenyon S, Jolly K, Hemming K, Ingram L, Gale N, Dann SA, Chambers J, Macarthur C. (2012) Evaluation of Lay Support in Pregnant women with Social risk (ELSIPS): a randomised controlled trial. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 12:11 doi:10.1186/1471-2393-12-11

Redwood S, Gale N & Greenfield S (2012) ‘“You give us Rangoli, we give you talk” - Using an Art-Based Activity to Elicit Data from a Seldom Heard Group’, BMC Medical Research Methodology, 12:7 doi:10.1186/1471-2288-12-7

Hewison A, Gale NK, Shapiro J (2012) Co-production in research: some reflections on the experience of engaging practitioners in health research. Public Money & Management. 21(4): 297-302.


Gale NK, Greenfield S, Gill P, Gutridge K, Marshall T (2011) Patient and general practitioner attitudes to taking medication to prevent cardiovascular disease after receiving detailed information on risks and benefits of treatment: a qualitative study, BMC Family Practice 12:59, doi:10.1186/1471-2296-12-59

Gale NK (2011) ‘From body-talk to body-stories: educating for body work in complementary and alternative medicine’, Sociology Of Health And Illness Special Edition/Monograph, Body Work in Health and Social Care: Critical Themes, Future Agendas, 33(2): 237–251.


Gale NK (2010) ‘The embodied ethnographer: journeys in a healthcare sub-culture’ International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 9(2): 206-223.


Gale, NK (2009) ‘Promoting patient-practitioner partnership in clinical training: a critical evaluation’ Learning in Health and Social Care, 8(1): 13-21.

Seers H, Gale NK, Paterson C, Cooke H, Tuffrey V & Polley MJ (2009) Combined analysis of qualitative and quantitative data from patients using complementary therapies in cancer support care. Supportive Care in Cancer, 17(9): 1159-1167.

View all publications in research portal


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