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The importance of research training at undergraduate level for Allied Health Professionals

Authors

Dr Ali Aries: Allied Health Professions Research Lead, The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust

Louise Wallace: Clinical Team Leader, Community MSK Assessment and Physiotherapy Service, The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust

Jake Hughes, MSci Physiotherapy student, Keele University

Christine Wan, MSci Physiotherapy student, Keele University

Dr Ros Leslie: Black Country ICS Chief Allied Health Professional and RWT Chief AHP

 

Background

In 2024 a unique opportunity arose for two students to undertake placements within a bespoke research capacity building project called ‘Research ABC’.

ABC stands for Allied Health Professions Building (research) Capacity Across the Black Country. The project, led by Dr Ali Aries, Allied Health Professionals (AHP) Research Lead at The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust (RWT), was completed over eight months (August 2023-March 2024) targeting six NHS trusts across the Black Country (Black Country Healthcare Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Dudley Integrated Health and Care NHS Trust, Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, RWT and Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust).

AHPs employed or hosted by one of these provider organisations were invited to take part in this service evaluation. The project bid was submitted by Dr Ros Leslie (Chief AHP at RWT), to receive funding from the Clinical Research Network West Midlands (CRN WM) Improvement and Innovation grant.

The grant aimed to enable the Black Country Integrated Care System (ICS) to address the four domains of Health Education England’s Allied Health Professions’ Research and Innovation Strategy for England: capacity, capability, context, and culture. The strategy comprises three vision statements, each having a distinct intention to accelerate transformative change.

The Research ABC Team made a survey available in October 2023 to AHPs across the Black Country (n=2396), to ascertain current levels of engagement in research, both at an individual and an organisational level. Research skills, training needs and barriers to engagement in research activities were also surveyed.

Following this benchmarking exercise, AHPs have been offered training, resources, and support to develop skills to build capacity for setting up and running research studies throughout the region. Developing networking opportunities is also a key aim of the project and the team has created a networking and training space on Microsoft Teams for all the 250 survey respondents who indicated interest in accessing this space.

 

Student learning objectives

The Research ABC placement highlighted the importance of research in healthcare and the skills required to be a good research team member, including effective communication, initiative, and leadership skills. Students also had the opportunity to contribute to the development of training resources to be used as part of the project.

The aim of the placement was not only to appreciate the importance of evidence-based practice in clinical practice, but also to break down barriers to participation in research; for example, many people think a PhD degree is required for taking part in research. However, graduate AHPs should be engaged in clinical research at the very beginning of their careers –

helping to raise awareness of the importance of evidence-based practice, and the positive impact it can have on the quality of patient care delivered.

 

What opportunities arose from the placement?

Training opportunities:

  • Excel training with RWT’s Digital Innovation Unit
  • Good clinical practice
  • Literature searching with RWT’s Knowledge and Evidence Specialist
  • ‘Writing for publication’ workshop
  • Musculoskeletal and neurological critically appraisal topic (CAT) groups

 

Meetings/shadowing opportunities:

  • Research and Development (R&D) Lead at RWT
  • R&D Directorate Manager at RWT
  • Group Director of Research and Development for RWT and Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust
  • AHP Leads meetings
  • Research champion meetings
  • Black Country AHP and Nursing Faculty meetings

 

The students’ perspectives (Christine Wan and Jake Hughes)

The placement offered us an opportunity to experience what it is like to be a part of a multidisciplinary team (MDT), while attending training and meetings which consolidated our knowledge in the field of research.

We were offered the opportunity to organise and conduct a focus group and a semi-structured interview. The aim was to understand the perspectives of the Research ABC Team members. With the help of our educators, we learned how to complete the consent form and participant information sheet. We then shared the roles of moderator and facilitator, both taking field notes and recording the discussions.

Despite doubting our own abilities at first, we ultimately felt proud of our performance and what we had achieved.

We were encouraged to create a poster on our findings and will present at the Physiotherapy Research Society conference, due to take place in Bournemouth on 12 April 2024.

Another important part of our placement was to search for literature using databases and critical appraisal skills (CASP) tools. This ensured we were able to select the most relevant literature for our needs. We also learned of the benefits of being a research-active Trust, and how evidence-based practice leads to better patient outcomes.

With a limited availability for research placements, we feel privileged to have been a part of this placement. With exposure to new areas and experiences, we have developed our leadership skills and confidence. Further to this, the placement highlighted that there are more career paths outside of traditional clinical work.

 

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