Written by Kristine Hamman
The third Vet Rehab Summit Qualifier last month was a conversation between Kirsten Haussler, Dr Nicole Rombach and Dr David Marlin, who brought different perspectives and backgrounds to a discussion on conducting research while in clinical practice. They share their advice, experience and more.
Research is something anyone can do, it is a skill that can be learnt and developed. With time, mentorship and perseverance, you can create and publish high-quality research in your clinical practice, using the patients that you already have.
Here are some of my highlights from the discussion.
Setting yourself up for success
All three lecturers shared that they believe that anyone can do research. They also agreed that the easiest way to be successful at your research project – asking a good question, setting up sound methods, and completing the project – is to work with a mentor as you embark on this journey.
The best way to go about this is to identify someone in the field whose work you appreciate and to approach them. Be bold! After all, they are only human, and they may really like your idea and be willing to collaborate. Many academics struggle to get sufficient patient numbers and are open to working with someone who has the numbers but may not have the research ‘know-how’.
Another place to look is your online community. Platforms such as Onlinepethealth and the Vet Rehabbers Research Group have many people that may be willing to act as mentors. These platforms, along with platforms like Dr David’s Equine Research Collaborations, are also great places to openly discuss potential research ideas or get others’ views on research papers. And if reading scientific papers is something you struggle with, Kiki advises to look at courses through AO Peer.
It is important that we collaborate and speak to people with different backgrounds, even across fields or industries. Each industry has its own challenges, and by crossing these borders we can see what works in other fields, and whether we might apply similar ideas in our own. When Dr David conducts research, he chooses someone with different but complementary skills to his own, which brings a different dynamic to his study.
Where Your Patients and Research Meet
Dr Nicole says, ‘You are working, so let that work for you!’ Listen to what your owners are asking and let this guide the development of your research question and method. The more you focus on developing a niche market in your business – treating and working with specific patients or pathologies, the easier it becomes to develop a research question and methodology from your client basis. Your client basis will then also provide you with the largest possible study population.
In terms of developing a research question, Kiki suggested getting your question as specific and focused as possible, then making sure the methodology is really good, and the rest will follow. Everyone agreed that one needs to avoid broad questions, as this will result in poor study reliability. Using your clinical records can be a great way to conduct research retrospectively or prospectively. Dr Nicole suggests creating and using codes in your clinical records that will allow the information to easily be pulled into data sheets later.
It’s all about the outcomes you are measuring. The more objective and reliable they are, the better, but it does not need to be fancy or expensive. You could develop your own scales, or quantitative measuring tools for further studies, as we see done in the paper validating The Finish Canine Stifle Index. There is so little research into what is normal in both the canine and equine fields that we really should focus on this basic level of information before we investigate further questions. Clinical Metrology Instruments can be a valuable tool to evaluate progress or change from an owner perspective, and many have been validated already which will increase the validity of your research.
Dr David cautions that if you are primarily a clinician and want to do research, be aware of changing the protocols of your study design. Although treating what is in front of you and adapting the regime accordingly is second nature to a clinician, this is not allowed when conducting research. In research, when you’ve decided what you intend to do, you have to stick with it! This is also where having a mentor to guide and direct you is so important. And not only having a mentor, but also working with a statistician from the beginning, and keeping them both in the loop throughout your study.
Run the Pilot Study!
This is so important if we want to avoid the ‘rookie mistakes’, especially as first-time researchers. A pilot study will help you gain a better idea of the cost and time involved. It will also help you refine the research question. As Dr Nicole puts it, pilot studies help us identify the ‘what-if’s’ and to make a flow chart showing what to do when our research goes right and when it does not. This comes back to the importance of having a mentor, as a mentor will be able to help you build layers into your research, so that even if a patient drops out of the study or needs to change treatment protocols, their data can still be used.
Anyone can do research. It is a skill that can be learned and developed. Although the costs involved may seem daunting, asking is free. So get out into your communities, whether real or virtual, and make the effort to find a mentor. Your field may be missing a piece of the puzzle until you contribute what you know in a more disciplined, focused and useful way.
To watch this panel discussion, head over to the Free Zone or Onlinepethealth Members portal, and watch the recording.
You can also join the following Facebook groups for mentorship and guidance:
Or learn more abour conducting research through short courses:
You can also read the following blogs for additional insight and information: