Moving out of a stuck conversation about health research

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Have you ever found yourself in a recurring conversation, you know, the one where you have a sense of having been here before? If so, is there a point at which you begin to question why you are going round in circles?

What if that conversation was centred around the barriers of combining clinical practice with research and how difficult life as an aspiring clinical researcher is? Does this conversation sound familiar? This is where I found myself recently with a sense of being in a conversation that has been playing for a number of years. Such conversations quickly spiral downwards and you can feel the energy being sapped from the room.

This is a well-rehearsed conversation in which many of the barriers are understood, researched and published. It revolves around topics such as lack of time, lack of understanding/commitment from managers and feelings of frustration. Whilst it may be a vehicle for venting emotions and provide a sense of shared experience I suspect no one leave such conversations feeling invigorated and full of energy.

So here’s the thing – how do we unstick a stuck conversation? It takes courage to be the person in the room who offers a different perspective or the person who challenges people to think differently. But when someone does the energy in the room shifts and the focus turns to what is possible.

We know that there are examples of NHS Trusts who provide support for healthcare professionals to undertake research including time, funding and posts – what can we learn from them? We know that there are individuals who manage to achieve a mix of clinical practice and research – what have they done to achieve this? We know that it is important to work more strategically within organisations to influence this agenda – how do we do this?

If a conversation is stuck there is a reason and constantly repeating it does not help. Maybe one of the things the healthcare professional research community needs to get better at is framing a different conversation.

Here is one example of how conversations can be refocused. Given the current pressure that clinical services are under we know that managers have to focus on service priorities. Requests for support, time or funding are made often in terms of the impact on personal career development or ‘because research is important’ rather than the contribution new skills, expertise and networks will make to key team or organisational objectives.

A major focus for the NHS at the moment is workforce transformation and the need to ensure that the workforce has the right skill mix to meet the future needs of the service. It is interesting, within this context, to look at the QAA Characteristics Statements for Masters and Doctoral level qualifications. They are possibly not the most exciting read but contained within them are the characteristic statements for people who qualify with these awards.

For anyone considering or undertaking such qualifications it is worth having a look as they provide a great starting point for thinking about the contribution such transferable skills can make to transformation, implementation and evidence-based practice.

I have just started to explore how they map onto the skills required to support transformation and the table below is being shared as a piece of thinking out loud.

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So if, as aspiring clinical researchers, we shape a conversation along these lines are we able to shape a different conversation?  If we talk with managers about how we can address service needs in the assignments for modules, undertaken a systematic review to inform a service development or focus a dissertation on a question arising from practice we are more likely to shift the conversation?

So next time you find yourself in this stuck conversation instead of joining the downward spiral be brave and be the one who asks what do we need to do  to move this conversation on. You will feel an energy shift in the room as you move the conversation forward into a place of action and more creative thinking.

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