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Why do we need to do research?

10 April, 2017

Author: Dr Rachel Harris, Professional and Education Manager

Rachel Harris

If we are to count ourselves as professionals surely it is incumbent on all of us to build on our professional body of knowledge, and improve our standards of care and practice through education and research.

As radiographers we should ensure that we continuously develop our scope of practice and challenge traditional boundaries.

Shouldn’t we all review our professional practice regularly and question its efficacy where required, so that we can deliver beneficial evidence based change for our patients? To this end, the following requirements would be key:

  • All of us should be using and critiquing research to continuously question our practice.
  • Our advanced practitioners should be adding to the body of professional knowledge by presenting and publishing their work.
  • Our consultant practitioners are our leaders in their field, who need to be advising and supporting others and ensuring the culture is such that research is accepted as a legitimate part of professional activity. They have a crucial function in making research happen and implementing findings into practice.

As professionals, research is essential to underpin our clinical practice, and we need the skills and confidence to facilitate such work.

The overarching vision of The Society and College of Radiographers Research Strategy is to improve patient care and outcomes by continuing to develop, grow and implement a high quality evidence base that addresses patient-focused priorities.

So how do we do that when some parts of the new strategy have proved controversial? Particularly the expectation that:

  • Clinical research careers will be well established within radiotherapy and imaging departments, supported by the national researcher job profiles for AHPs.
  • All advanced practitioners should hold, or be working towards, a full Master’s degree.
  • All consultant level practitioners should hold, or be working towards, a Doctoral level award.

Yes, such is the level of the challenge!
We know that the main reasons why we don’t perform research are capacity (time, workloads, lack of job plans), capability (skills and confidence), and funding (although applying for funding is likely to be influenced by capacity and capability).

However, if we are to retain our professional status and continue to grow we need those within the profession who have the skills and confidence to undertake and lead research.

The new SCoR Research Strategy has three main aims:

AIM 1
Embed research at all levels of radiography practice and education. This is about ensuring we foster a culture across the radiography profession that values research and service evaluation activities as a core part of delivering high quality patient care for all.

AIM 2
Raise the impact and profile of radiography through high quality research focused on improving patient care and/or service delivery.

We need to ensure all research conducted by radiographers has a measurable impact on patient care and/or service delivery and this requires strong leadership to be achieved. Strengthening collaborative links between clinical and education institutions and industry partners must be encouraged too, so that we can effectively transfer research ideas, skills and people.

AIM 3
Expand UK radiography research capacity through development of skilled and motivated research active members of the profession.

We need to support new roles such as the clinical-academic radiographer and remit more radiographers into research posts. Moreover, we should encourage radiographers at all levels to apply for the available funding.

To meet the aims and vision of the SCoR Research Strategy it is of course vital to identify research areas for radiography. These priority areas will enable our profession to focus research activity on topics deemed to be critical for current and future radiography practice; and enable the best use of funding resources.

The new research priorities have been published, with many thanks to the hard work of Professor Heidi Probst and Dr Fiona Mellor. They have been selected by the profession for the profession via a Delphi consensus method. A total of 133 priority topics have been identified and come under five key themed areas:

  • Technological innovations
  • Public and patient experience
  • Accuracy and safety
  • Service and workforce transformation
  • Education and training

So what support is out there?
The SCoR has numerous research grants available to membership. The CoRIPS Research Grant scheme is gaining momentum, with a large number of projects supported. Many of these may not have come to fruition had it not been for the scheme.

We also have our College of Radiographers Doctoral Fellowships which exist to support members at any stage of their Doctoral studies.

Dr Christina Malamateniou has recently launched the first Formal Radiography Research Mentorship (FORRM) scheme which is designed and delivered by radiographers, for radiographers. The scheme offers one-to-one mentoring, delivered by some of the most noted academic and research radiographers in the UK. In January, the first set of mentors and mentees was matched up and they are now working towards the mentees’ research goals.

I am honoured to be the current Chair for the Council for AHP Research (CAHPR) Steering Committee. The Council’s mission is to develop AHP research and enable the 12 member professions to speak with a single powerful voice on research issues, thereby raising their profile, and increasing their influence for the benefit of all members.

CAHPR provides excellent opportunities for learning, sharing, networking, collaborations and access to free research advice and support via 23 regional hubs across the UK. Please take full advantage of these benefits and become an active member of your regional hub.

Radiography is fundamental to so many patient pathways and, as such, requires the delivery of high quality, proven care. All of us need to be able to justify what we do and why we do it. We owe it to ourselves to be committed to both lifelong learning and developing the profession.

Speaking as a cancer patient, I am of course even more mindful of why we must continually review the way we practice, ensuring we integrate an evidence base and reasoning into the clinical setting, so that we always provide our patients and their families with the most accurate diagnosis and best treatment available. Our patients’ futures depend on it.

I am very proud to be a radiographer. Our profession is at the cutting edge of technology and we have amazing career opportunities that are there for the taking. However, we should always remember each individual in our care.
A few years ago my standard radiotherapy regime might have been five weeks of radiotherapy. Thanks to the extensive research in this field, this has been modified to three weeks. As a patient, I can tell your that makes a massive difference to the patient experience.

So we must stop asking: ‘Why do we need to do research?’ and perhaps instead always ask: ‘Well, why wouldn’t we?’

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