Fostering research in the nursing community

11 October 2011

One year ago, Leslie Clough had never written a grant application, navigated an ethics review process, or led a research project. Today, research is an integral part of her job description.

As senior leader for patient and family education and health literacy at BC Children’s and BC Women’s Hospital, Clough is leading an evaluation of breastfeeding information resources using research skills and resources developed through the MSFHR-sponsored Nursing Research Facilitator (NRF) Program.

Launched in 2009 as a component of the BC Nursing Research Initiative (BCNRI), the NRF Program has funded a research facilitator in each of BC’s six health authorities to provide the resources, support, and mentorship to allow novice researchers to evaluate research questions within the scope of their clinical duties.

Moving research into practice

In the course of her work with families and maternity staff, Clough realized the need to evaluate the breastfeeding information provided to women throughout the perinatal period — extending from late pregnancy through the weeks following birth. Mindful of the tendency to overload women with pamphlets and fact sheets, Clough wanted to determine which resources women need, when they are needed, and the best format in which to deliver them.

To develop this concept into a fully realized research project, Clough was connected with Bubli Chakraborty, nursing research leader for the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA). Chakraborty played an instrumental role in helping to launch Clough’s project by assisting with grant applications, ethics submissions, and the recruitment of consultants to lead patient focus groups, while serving as a sounding board and mentor.

“She’s been so valuable in giving a sense of the big picture for research — finding the tools and being able to consolidate that in one place for you so it was clear what you could do,” says Clough.
Chakraborty brought a sense of focus to the project, helping scale the research to use available in-house resources and remain manageable within Clough’s regular duties.

“When you’re trying to get everything done in the course of your shift, it’s really hard to remember that everything you’re doing is based on research and evidence,” says Chakraborty. “My role is to find resources and design projects that fit with the flow of the work day so that they’ll be adopted and not just the extra thing off the edge of your desk.”

With Chakraborty’s support, Clough’s research project has generated evidence that is helping inform her approach to breastfeeding education.

“Face-to-face, one-to-one education was most important to the women. We also found they preferred using books, rather than a website, which was really interesting. They really wanted to have a big picture or roadmap of what they needed to do during the perinatal period and understand the challenges of breastfeeding as well as the benefits,” says Clough.

She has presented her findings to managers, educators, and staff at BC Children’s and BC Women’s Hospital, as well as senior staff from Vancouver Coastal Health. Fraser Health representatives have also expressed interest in a similar focus group study and have met with Clough to discuss the project’s design.

“It’s being used in three different health authorities and is also being used in the evaluation of our pre-natal education program here,” she says.

Building research capacity

Clough’s project represents just one of dozens of success stories from the NRF Program’s first year. Chakraborty says she has provided research support to more than 50 individuals and teams since assuming the research facilitator role. Some of the more common requests were for help conducting literature reviews and study evaluations, drafting preliminary research questions, and designing studies to conform to ethical standards. She has also developed an inventory of research resources and worked to connect nurses with appropriate templates and tools.

“It’s really important to sort out what resources are best for novices, versus those that are at a higher level,” says Chakraborty. “I’m a filter, and the better I filter, the more the researchers benefit. I try not to recommend resources I haven’t used myself, because their time is really valuable.”

While Chakraborty says her services are available as long as they are needed, she encourages researchers and teams to become self-sufficient by helping them develop research skills and by facilitating partnerships between nurses and academics.

“I try and have teams not continuously use me,” she says. “That’s part of what I say: ‘I’m teaching you this so that next time you don’t have to come to me and you have a template.’ So that’s part of capacity building as well.”

Clough, who has worked at BC Women’s Hospital for 22 years as a childbirth educator and manager, says the introduction of research facilitators through the NRF Program reflects the growing emphasis placed on research within the health authorities.

“Having a nursing research leader says that your organization recognizes that research is important to do,” says Clough. “It’s becoming a focus, and it’s an important piece.

“Whatever you’re doing, you want to make sure that it does the job, and if you can’t ask those questions and do that research, you never know. It is respectful of everyone’s expertise, time, and resources