Care Economies in Context

Student Work Analytical Reflections

Medical Skills in Care

From May to August, 2023, the Canada team gathered together five outstanding undergraduate students through the University of Toronto’s Research Opportunity Program. The students helped clean the interview data that our graduate students conducted and wrote a series of analytical reflections based on their observations. The following analytical reflection is by Ivy Zhu.

Based on the elder care interviews conducted thus far, it seems to me that a lot of family members working in healthcare frequently play a part in caregiving. Their medical skills and knowledge have been put to use in varying degrees. Some interviews highlight advantages in the form of being able to provide additional care and make better informed decisions, but also increased burdens and stressors.

SC20 is a professor of medicine… he admits that his privileged position allows him to better care for his parents by making use of his connections

SC20 is a professor of medicine acting as POA and the primary caregiver for his mother. He admits that his privileged position allows him to better care for his parents by making use of his connections. However, SC25’s interview reveals that such skills and knowledge are only advantageous when taken advantage of. Before he became his mother’s caregiver, his aunts who worked in the medical field would take his mother to doctor’s appointments, but they didn’t do a good job in providing care because they weren’t “asking the right questions”. This suggests that effort, particularly in patient advocacy, is a key factor of excellent caregiving regardless of the caregiver’s medical skills.

Surprisingly, having medical skills as a caregiver can sometimes act as a double-edged sword. SC11’s sister is a nurse practitioner who primarily took care of their mother, and SC11 suspected that doctors turned down their request to put their mother in palliative care because his sister was a medical professional. Given the healthcare system’s limited resources, they may have prioritized other patients for palliative care but, if true, their refusal took away the opportunity for SC11’s sister to have some quality time and provide emotional care (Barken et al., 2016). While it is obviously advantageous that her sister has the expertise to care for their mother, her skills led them to feel that they had little support from the medical community.

It is also ironic that her caregiving abilities are undervalued and seen as low skill in the paid sphere (Barken et al., 2016) but highly valued in the unpaid private sphere. This also has potentially interesting implications for care, if already stressed-out paid healthcare workers with heavy workloads are given increased unpaid caregiving responsibilities without additional support. This excess burden could lead to burnout. Undervalued care skills discourage high-quality care.


Barken, R., Daly, T.J., & Armstrong, P. (2016). Family Matters: The Work and Skills of Family/Friend Carers in Long-Term Residential Care. Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études canadiennes 50(2), 321-347.

Project Lead