M.A. Hillen PhD


M.A. Hillen PhD

Assistant Professor
Main activities
Medical Psychology / Physician patient communication
Focus of research


Marij Hillen is a researcher of physician-patient communication, fellow for the Dutch Cancer Society and VENI-recipient. Her aim is to enhance complex communication and the relation between (cancer) patients and their physicians. With her PhD thesis (cum laude, 2013), performed at the Academic Medical Center (AMC) in Amsterdam, she sought to unravel what cancer patients’ trust means and how it is influenced by communication. She followed up on this work through a self-obtained Pink Ribbon grant to test the impact of physicians’ non-verbal communication on trust and information recall. Through an AMC Innovation Grant, she currently pursues this line of work by investigating how physicians’ use of the Electronic Medical Record affects eye contact and the physician-patient relation.


Using a personal fellowship grant from the Dutch Cancer Society (acquired in 2015), she has subsequently investigated how the process of second opinions in oncology can be facilitated through better communication. In 2018, she was awarded an NWO VENI-grant to study how physicians’ uncertainty tolerance influences their medical practice and communication.

Marij obtained over €950.000,- in research grants and authored 31 international peer-reviewed publications. She has experience and expertise in a variety of research methods. She has strong international collaborations and is or has been an active member in several national and international organizations. She has supervised and currently supervises PhD, masters’ and bachelors’ students and provides practical communication education within the bachelor and master programs of medicine.


Key publications
  • Hillen Marij A., Medendorp Niki M., Daams Joost G., Smets Ellen M. A. Patient-Driven Second Opinions in Oncology: A Systematic Review oncologist 2017;22 (10):1197-1211 [PubMed]
  • Hillen Marij A., Gutheil Caitlin M., Strout Tania D., Smets Ellen M. A., Han Paul K. J. Tolerance of uncertainty: Conceptual analysis, integrative model, and implications for healthcare Social science & medicine (1982) 2017;180:62-75 [PubMed]
  • Hillen Marij A., de Haes Hanneke C. J. M., van Tienhoven Geertjan, Bijker Nina, van Laarhoven Hanneke W. M., Vermeulen Daniëlle M., Smets Ellen M. A. All eyes on the patient: the influence of oncologists' nonverbal communication on breast cancer patients' trust Breast cancer research and treatment 2015;153 (1):161-171 [PubMed]
  • Hillen M. A., de Haes H. C. J. M., Stalpers L. J. A., Klinkenbijl J. H. G., Eddes E. H., Butow P. N., van der Vloodt J., van Laarhoven H. W. M., Smets E. M. A. How can communication by oncologists enhance patients' trust? An experimental study Annals of oncology 2014;25 (4):896-901 [PubMed]
All Publications
Curriculum Vitae

Master's degree
University: University of Amsterdam
Date: 30 November 2007
Main subject: Psychology (research master)

University: University of Amsterdam
Starting date: 1 September 2008
Date of PhD award: 1 November 2013
Supervisor (‘Promotor’): Prof. dr. J.C.J.M. de Haes
Thesis title: Cancer patients’ trust in their oncologist - cum laude

Current position(s)
Assistant professor (Nov 2018 – date). Amsterdam UMC, University of Amsterdam.

Previous positions

  • Visiting fellow (Aug 2015 – Oct 2015). Project: Prostate cancer patients’ experiences of uncertainty when seeking a second opinion. Institute: Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMRCI).
  • Postdoc / Fellow for the Dutch Cancer Society (Apr 2015 – Apr 2019). Project: Patient-driven second opinions in oncology. Institute: Amsterdam UMC, University of Amsterdam.
  • Postdoc Fellow (Jan 2013 – Mar 2015). Project: Breast cancer patients’ trust in their oncologist: the role of non-verbal behavior and ethnic background. Institute: Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam.

Grants, fellowships and awards obtained as formal applicant (total: €960.665,-)

  • 2018: NWO Talent Scheme VENI-grant for project ‘Dealing with the unknown – Supporting physicians to better tolerate uncertainty in clinical practice’. Amount: €250.000 
  • 2016: AMC Innovation Trust funding for a research project to investigate the impact of Electronic Medical Record (EMR) use on communication and trust between physician and patient. Amount: 200.000
  • 2016: Symposium grant; Association for Researchers in Psychology and Health (ARPH) for a symposium on the development of video vignettes. Amount: €750. 
  • 2016: Best poster award, Early Career Professionals Programme at the International Psycho-Oncology Society (IPOS) congress. 
  • 2014: Fellowship psychosocial research of the Dutch Cancer Society (KWF Kankerbestrijding). Amount: €357.600
  • 2014: Best thesis award of the Association for Researchers in Psychology and Health (ARPH). Amount: €500
  • 2013: Cum Laude for PhD Thesis ‘Cancer patients’ trust in their oncologist’.
  • 2013: Symposium grant; Association for Researchers in Psychology and Health (ARPH) for a symposium on patients’ trust. Amount: €750.
  • 2011: Pink Ribbon funding for scientific research (primary investigator) entitled: ‘Breast cancer patients’ trust in their oncologist: The role of nonverbal behavior and ethnic background.’ Amount:€147.565.
  • 2011: Steffens Award for junior investigators, Summer Course of the European Association for Communication in Healthcare (EACH). Amount: €1250. 
  • 2010: ‘Young Investigators Network Grant’, European Association for Communication in Healthcare (EACH). Amount: €250
  • 2010: Dutch Cancer Society (KWF Kankerbestrijding) travel grant for academics. Amount: €3500

Scholarship/Grant/Prize obtained as formal co-applicant (total €10.000,-)

  • 2018: Amsterdam Public Health ‘Quality of Care Program’ grant. Project title: ‘Communication2: exchanging methods for the multidisciplinary evaluation of interpersonal communication’. Amount: €10.000

Teaching activities
2015 – present ‘Communication with patients for researchers’, course for PhD-students as part of the Graduate School curriculum.
2008 – present Medical communication (theory and skills) for medical students (years 1-4).

International activities
International appointments:
Aug. – Oct. 2015 Visiting fellow
Dr. Paul Han; Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, Maine Medical Center Research Institute, Portland (ME), USA.

May. – Jun. 2010 Visiting researcher
Prof. Phyllis Butow; Centre for Medical Psychology & Evidence-based Decision-making, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.

Selected international collaborations
2016 – date Project: Effects of physicians’ communication of uncertainty on patients’ trust and need for a second opinion
• Researcher name: Dr. Danielle Blanch-Hartigan; Bentley University, Waltham (MA), USA.
• Output: 1 peer-reviewed paper (see ref).

2016 – 2017 Project: Second opinion in medical encounters− A study among breast cancer patients
• Researcher names: Dr. Sophie Groß, Natalia Cecon; University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany.
• Output: 2 peer-reviewed paper (see ref).

2015 – date Project: Uncertainty and uncertainty tolerance in the context of oncological second opinions
• Researcher name: Dr. Paul Han; Maine Medical Center Research Institute, Portland (ME), USA.
• Output: 3 peer-reviewed papers (see ref), 1 paper in preparation, 4 presentations and a symposium at 2 international conferences (ICCH and IPOS).

2011 – date Project: Peer-to-peer feedback among early career researchers in health communication
Organization of 4 workshops for early career researchers on peer-to-peer feedback at international conferences, within the International Association for Communication in Healthcare (EACH), in collaboration with international colleagues.

2010 – 2011 Project: Validation of the English version of the Trust in Oncologist Scale (TiOS)
• Researcher name: Prof. Phyllis Butow; University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.
• Output: 1 peer-reviewed paper (see ref) & presentation at international conference (ICCH).

Committees, board and editorial memberships

  • 2018 – date: Deputy chair of the research committee of the International Association for Communication in Healthcare (EACH).
  • 2018: Guest editor Patient Education and Counseling (special issue, appeared Sep. 2018); International Association for Communication in Healthcare (EACH).
  • 2016 – date: Lead of the ‘Tools’ group within the research committee of the International Association for Communication in Healthcare (EACH).
  • 2016-2018: Editor-in-chief ‘Dutch journal Psycho-Oncology’ [Psychosociale Oncologie]; Dutch Society for Psycho-Oncology (NVPO)
  • 2011 – 2015: Member of the working group Scientific Research of the Dutch Society for Psychosocial Oncology (NVPO).
  • 2010: Member of the PhD council of the research school for Psychology and Health (P&H).
  • 2009 – 2011: Chair of the AMC Network Qualitative Research in Health Care.


Media articles or performances

  • 2018: Interview article in Dutch journal ‘Medische Oncologie’ about cancer patients going abroad for second opinions: ‘Wat drijft de patiënt naar het buitenland?’. https://medischeoncologie.nl/jaargangen/2018/9-dec/wat-drijft-de-patient-naar-het-buitenland-2.html
  • 2018: Article in national magazine ‘Zin magazine’ about second opinions.
  • 2017: Article in free national newspaper ‘Metro nieuws’ about second opinions: https://www.metronieuws.nl/nieuws/binnenland/2017/02/waarom-vragen-we-niet-om-een-second-opinion
  • 2017: Opinion letter in national newspaper ‘NRC Handelsblad’ about second opinions: https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/02/16/second-opinions-meer-onzekerheid-en-hogere-kosten-6722084-a1546439
  • 2017: Interview in online popular science magazine ‘Nemo kennislink’ about second opinions: https://www.nemokennislink.nl/publicaties/allemaal-aan-de-_second-opinion_
  • 2016: Item on popular national website ‘LindaNews’ about research on breast cancer patients’ trust in their oncologist: http://www.lindanieuws.nl/nieuws/vertrouwen-in-arts-heeft-positief-effect-op-behandeling-kanker/
  • 2016: Interview on ‘Business News Radio’ (BNR, national station) about whether or not patients should record their consultations. http://www.bnr.nl/?service=player&type=fragment&audioId=2784366
  • 2015: Item on website oncologischonderzoek.nl about research on breast cancer patients’ trust in their oncologist: http://oncologischonderzoek.nl/page.php?al=Invloed-van-non-verbale-communicatie-van-oncologen-op-vertrouwen-van-mammacarcinoompati%C3%ABnten
  • 2013: Interview in magazine ‘Doorgang’ for patients with colon cancer
  • 2013: Article in national newspaper ‘De Telegraaf’ about cancer patients’ trust in their oncologist. http://www.telegraaf.nl/gezondheid/actueel/22011833/___Praten_met_patient_belangrijk___.html
  • 2013: Interview in magazine ‘Leukonieuws’ for leukemia patients.
  • 2012: Interview in national newspaper ‘Trouw’ about possible decline in trust after errors in healthcare. https://www.trouw.nl/home/arts-blijft-nog-even-op-zijn-voetstuk-staan~a4a6f714/
  • 2011: Interview in regional newspaper ‘De Stentor’ about research on cancer patients’ trust in their oncologist.



Current research funding
  • NWO (Vrijgesteld)
  • Stichting Amsterdams Universititeitsfonds