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Research Identifies Key Skills and Traits to Increase Organ Donation

Approximately 18 people die each day in the United States while awaiting a life saving organ transplant. Complicating matters, the list of patients needing a transplant continues to grow even as the list of potential donors remains relatively stagnant.

Research conducted by Dr. Kristin Schwartz, a recent alumna of University of the Rockies, has identified several key skills and traits that may increase the likelihood of a family choosing donation.

According to Schwartz’s research, approximately 43 percent of U.S. adults are registered organ donors – leaving most families to be faced with making the final decision on donation. And, in those instances, Schwartz says that 98 percent of families are experiencing the shock of an unanticipated death by a form of accident, abuse or trauma.

Schwartz profiled the personality traits, intelligence levels, linguistic and micro-facial expression skills of family support coordinators (FSC), whose job it is to approach family members to request donation. FSCs are expected to quickly assess each family for communication style, word usage, and appropriate level of detail in the information provided. 

As of Dec. 2010, the U.S. authorization rate was 75 percent. Schwartz studied a team of eight FSCs with an average authorization rate of 93 percent.

The team was comprised entirely of females who had been performing in their roles for more than a year, and whose ages ranged from 28 to 41 years old. Each of the team members completed several neuropsychological and facial micro-expression skill assessments. Findings were then correlated to an approach log that is completed monthly.

The research indicated several common traits of successful FSCs, including:

·         Above average linguistic skills and cognitive flexibility. These individuals can easily think about multiple concepts simultaneously. This is useful as FSCs must phrase information in a variety of ways based upon audience.   

·         Personality traits, like extroversion, that allow them to naturally engage in relationship-building techniques and to initiate and facilitate conversations. Results of the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory indicate that “feeling” is common to FSCs, as is “judging”.

·         The ability to correctly identify facial expressions. Most notably, these women were tested on micro-facial recognition, where they were asked to identify emotions based on facial expressions that lasted less than half of one second. The team recognized sadness 37 percent more often than the normative population, and they recognized joy and anger 20 percent more often.

·         The inability to identify contempt. Despite excelling at micro-facial identification in general, the team had a difficult time recognizing expressions of contempt.  This adaptation has benefits in the FSC role. If an FSC were to recognize or be dissuaded by the contempt of others, she would be unable to perform her role.

Schwartz’s research also identified that a higher-than-normal IQ is not required, although it would be very difficult for someone with a less-than-average IQ to be successful in the role.  

Impacts of this research could save lives by placing the correct people in front of families and increasing authorization rates, says Schwartz. 

Schwartz is putting her research into practice as an in-house coordinator for the University of Arizona Medical Center. She is a liaison between organ procurement organizations and the hospital, and she provides education to physicians and other medical staffs in order to develop and grow organ and tissue donation programs. She also performs clinical evaluations of potential donors and works with families of potential donors.


About University of the Rockies

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