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Why Do Research
There are a large number of reasons why you want to do a research project. A good research project is always much more work and much harder than you initially think, it is therefore worth looking at your motives right at the beginning. If you have been told that you have to do research or feel that you have to get some research published to pad out your CV you are unlikely to successfully complete a project (and it would be worth discussing with your trainers whether learning about critical appraisal and audit would be a better use of your time). Remember that starting but failing to complete a project may look worse than not doing any research at all (especially as there are alternative academic areas in which you could show excellence, such as audit or BETS).
However, if you motivation is a desire to know the answer to a burning question, a desire to take on the intellectual challenge of academic methods or a fascination with a particular part of Emergency Medicine - read on!
What do you want to achieve?
Be realistic about what you might achieve. For trainees the goal of your first research project (and probably the next few as well!) will be to learn about academic methods, rather than to produce information that will change the future of Emergency Medicine. At this early stage your research may be a success (in terms of your academic development), even if it does not get accepted for publication. You should bear in mind that the primary endpoint should be your personal development, however there is a satisfaction at also becoming expert in a particular field, producing original information and learning self-motivated work.
As you develop your skills in academic methods your objectives will change, and as the quality of your research improves you will start to answer larger and probably more important questions. Like anything else in medicine acquiring these skills takes time and practice.
Research and Academic Careers
Very few Emergency Medicine trainees will be intending to follow a academic career, most will become full-time NHS Consultants. However it is not only academics that produce excellent research! A career is an awfully long time, and we all need stimulation to maintain our interest in our work. For some, research provides this additional interest. However, fitting good research into a busy NHS Career can be difficult. If you are planning to do this learning about research methodology is a good idea.
Those in an academic career may have more time for research, but have additional pressure from teaching, university administration and their honorary NHS commitments. If you are contemplating a career in academic emergency medicine talk to those who are already embarked on this pathway at an early stage (and make sure that you know a good psychiatrist!).
This section is intended for those of you who have not had much experience at running a research project. It is very, very , very (is this enough 'very'?) important to adopt a structured approach from the beginning and get expert advice early on. This sounds simple and obvious - but you would be amazed at how many people ignore this advice in their enthusiasm to rush to designing a data collection sheet! If you ignore this advice your project will fail - it is as simple as that.
The Structured Approach
A successful research project requires a structured and disciplined approach. There are a series of stages to go through. These have to be done in the right order - it may not be immediately obvious to you why this has to be done, and it may seem like a waste of time to give so much attention to the details of working out the question, the exact methods and the way that the data will be analysed before actually collecting data. However, if you follow this advice you are much more likely to actually complete a successful project. This advice comes from people who have made the mistakes (see ) so it is well worth following.
You should have planned all stages of your project, including the analysis and presentation of results before starting data collection (as data collection comes fairly late on in the Structured Approach to research). Planning may include the collection of some pilot data.
It is often a good idea to write up the project before you start data collection! This may sound odd - but it is the best way of making sure that you have undertaken a structured approach (writing a research grant application has the same effect). First write the Introduction (for which you will need to do a literature search and formulate the research question), then write the Methods (being specific about all aspects of the research), then write the Results, leaving gaps to be filled in when you have collected the data (this will make you think about data analysis and presentation). All of this needs to be done before any data is collected!