Dr Mary Dahm

PhD (Macquarie University), MA (University Of Konstanz)
ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) Fellow 2022, Senior Research Fellow
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
T: +61 2 6125 4027

Research interests

Mary is a linguist analysing how the little (or big) things we do (or don't do) with language impact on patient safety and quality of care. 

She has a keen interest in Communicating for Diagnostic Excellence, improving the critical diagnostic conversations clinicians have with patients, from history taking to providing diagnosis, discussing risk and managing and communicating uncertainty.

Mary's program of work is impactful, translational research at the nexus of applied linguistics and health communication. Her interdisciplinary collaborations involve clinicians across a range of care settings, health consumer representatives, and patients. She aims to identify communication and systemic issues to address barriers to improve diagnosis, patient safety and quality of care through innovative consumer-driven research in health communication.


Dr Mary Dahm is an ARC DECRA Fellow and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Communication in Health Care (ICH) at the Australian National University.

She combines her passion for patient-centred health research with her interdisciplinary expertise in qualitative and mixed methods approaches in health communication and health services research. 

Mary’s project Addressing the Challenge of Communicating Uncertainty in Diagnosis was awarded a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) from the Australian Research Council (ARC). This project will examine the critical role and impact of communication on the diagnostic process in health settings. Expected outcomes include practical communication strategies, advanced research methods in misdiagnosis, enhanced research capacity in the health community and new insights on diagnostic safety in the health policy space. Work on this prestigious grant started in August 2022 and brings together the different scientific disciplines of linguistics, health communication, consumer engagement and diagnostic error, and a diverse team of stakeholders including clinicians, patient advocates and policy makers.

In collaboration with Dr Carmel Crock (Director Emergency Department, Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, Melbourne), Dr Dahm has published foundational journal articles and viewpoints on language in diagnosis and diagnostic uncertainty. This includes an invited viewpoint Understanding and Communicating Uncertainty in Achieving Diagnostic Excellence in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and Diagnostic Statement: Linguistic Analysis of how Clinicians Communicate Diagnosis, the first academic work linking linguistic expressions and diagnostic accuracy which garnered national media attention.

Patient engagement and consumer-driven research activities are central to her work. She has successfully led inclusive stakeholder workshops to enhance patient contributions towards addressing systemic issues and influencing health care policy. At ICH she has established a vibrant consumer refeprence group. 

She has published over 50 peer reviewed publications on a wide range of health communication topics including patient-centred communication, clinical handovers, surgical risk communication, health information infrastructure, and rapport and trust in consultations. 

Mary is also an Honorary Research Fellow at the Centre for Health Systems and Safety Research at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation at Macquarie University. There she was the project lead for an NHMRC-funded partnership project on improving test result management run in collaboration with the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, NSW Pathology and Health Consumers NSW.

Researcher's projects


  • ABIM Foundation "Communicating Wisely: Designing the ABIM Foundation Platform for Teaching and Evaluating the Communication of Uncertainty" (with US collaborators Dimitrios Papanagnou (Thomas Jefferson University) and Lekshmi Santhosh (University of California San Francisco))


  • Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) "Addressing the challenge of communicating uncertainty in diagnosis" 2022-2025
  • Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine (SIDM) Fellowship in Diagnostic Excellence "Diagnosis-related health care and research policy development – Quo vadis?"


  • Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) "Harnessing the Health Communication Power of the Early Childhood Sector" (led by Prof Sheila Degotardi, Macquarie University)

Available student projects

I am available to supervise research student projects focused on

  • health communication, 
  • interpersonal pragmatics and 
  • projects employing qualitative methods in health services research and discourse analysis in professional interactions.

Currently there are options for shorter term research placement projects related to

  • communication in diagnosis and communication of diagnostic uncertainty,
  • systematic reviews on health communication topic related to diagnostic safety and communication
  • shared decision making for patient with chronic kidney disease
  • consumer/ patient engagement in health communication research

Feel free to contact me with further proposals.

Current student projects

ANU Medical School Research Projects

  • Sybilla Stonnill (2023- ): "The power of language to influence the recommendations and lessons learned from Coroner’s reports for people whose deaths were complicated by misdiagnosis.” - Primary supervisor

Past student projects

ANU Medical School Research Projects

  • Rose Carey (2022-2023): "Diagnostic errors and diagnostic safety in emergency medicine in the United States and Australia. Insights from a qualitative study of interviews." - primary supervisor
  • Callum Wood (2022-2023): "Diagnostic Error and its Contributing Factors in Sepsis Cases of Tasmanian Coronial Findings from 2015 to 2021"  - primary supervisor
  • Michael Stevens (2022-2023): "Diagnostic Error amongst Five Vascular Disease Types, contained in TasmanianCoronial Findings from 2015 to 2021" - primary supervisor
  • Cellina Polifrone (2021-2022): "Enhancing Health Communication in CKD” - primary supervisor
  • Rohan Corrigan (2021-2022): "Impact of COVID-19 on the well-being of mental health inpatients"  - co-supervisor
  • Renming Liu (2021-2022): "The effect of COVID-19 on hospital healthcare" - co-supervisor
  • Thomas La (2021-2022): "Impact of COVID-19 on consumer experience of ACT health services" - co-supervisor
  • William Cattanach (2020-2021): "How do doctors communicate diagnostic uncertainty in primary care and how does it impact patient experience? An integrative review” - primary supervisor - This work has been published Open Access in the Journal of General Internal Medicine (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-022-07768-y) 


Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  17 June 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers