Building research capacity in speech and language therapy – Part 1

Looking for questions and looking for answersResearch skills are integral to any working position as a speech and language therapist (SLT).This is because SLT is (or at least strives to be) an evidence based profession.This means that the things we do, as SLTs, when providing care to real people/patients/clients have been researched and shown to be effective.To make an analogy, if you are in the unfortunate position of needing to take medication or of undergoing a surgical procedure, your doctor should be giving you information on success rates of the intervention in question (e.g. “this drug/procedure has a 60% chance of success, there is a 20% chance of no effect, and a 20% chance of negative side-effects”).Such figures are not just plucked out of the air or based on the particular doctor’s prior experiences – these figures are generally based on the outcomes of thorough and controlled research which has been peer-reviewed and published.

As with all science and healthcare-based fields, knowledge is not stationary.Therefore, it is the speech and language therapist’s responsibility to keep up to date with new developments that are relevant to their working practices in order to ensure they are capable of providing the best possible care.Naturally, there may be alternative approaches that may be available for any given situation and the SLT may be faced with a choice, however, as long as they are fully informed about the evidence for these competing approaches then they can make and justify a clinical decision and be accountable for this.And returning the opening sentence of this post – research skills do not begin and end with statistics.I mention this explicitly as in my experience it is the S-word that strikes fear into clinical SLTs and which frankly puts some people off research.

However, research skills extend far beyond the realm of numbers and p-values, and such skills are vital if SLTs are to ensure their practice is evidence based.For example, a vital first step in being an evidence based practitioner involving finding and critically evaluating existing literature and in order to even get to this stage ideally there should be a question that needs to be answered which guides what research literature is being searched for.

Anyway …

For most of the final year of my PhD studies I was also employed on a part-time basis as a Research Facilitator for SLT services in the North East of England.  If you’re working clinically or academically in SLT then you may well say something along the lines of “I haven’t come across one of those before but it sounds quite interesting”.Generally my response to this was:1) well it’s a new and unique model of supporting clinical SLTs in carrying out research which is currently on being used (to my knowledge) in the North East of England; and 2) well yes, it is actually quite interesting and potentially very beneficial to the individual SLT and also to their departments and NHS Trusts.So for this and the next blog post, I’m going to explain a bit about what a Research Facilitator for SLT actually does (or did) and how the role existed in the first place. This is in the hope that it may get people thinking about how their own research ideas can come to fruition or how they may possibly provide support and work in collaboration with others to develop and carry out research in clinical contexts.

Since 2007 there has been a collaboration established between Newcastle University and SLT service managers in surrounding NHS Trusts which has aimed to develop and nurture research projects where the original research ideas have originated from SLT clinicians working in NHS posts and to support these clinicians in taking these ideas forward.In principle this arrangement meant that NHS service managers knew which support they could realistically draw from within the University when clinicians would intimate their research ideas and desire to do some kind of project work which may otherwise fall outside of more traditional audit and service evaluation/development projects carried out within the context of their departmental roles.This collaborative group also managed to acquire a small budget from NHS North of Tyne which was used principally to provide some pump-priming to clinicians which could help get projects up off the ground (e.g. by allowing the clinician to buy-out some of their clinical time in order to assign protected research time for a specified period) and to get projects to a position where they could produce some concrete evidence which could be taken forward into ideas which could be put into applications for larger, national funding sources (e.g. NIHR, The Stroke Assocaition, etc.).

This collaboration was successful in getting a number of projects off the ground and followed through. However, there came a point when it was realised that there were a lot more ideas floating around than could be directly supported by service managers and academics in the time that they had available in amongst their other and many commitments.  So this led the collaboration to identify the potential benefit of having a permanent role in place to support clinicians in developing research ideas into fully fledge research projects and getting these up and running and seeing them through to completion.Therefore the collaboration applied for funding from the NHS National Institute of Health Research to fund just such a position.And that is where I (and my job share partner) came in.

And, rather dramatically, this is where I’ll end this post.

Next post will describe in more detail what I did while working as a Research Facilitator for SLT and I’ll also draw attention to some useful resources for SLTs that I came across during my time.


About chrissp1980
Currently a lecturer in speech pathology in North Queensland, Australia. I'm lecturing in acquired disorders of speech and language and also attempting to enthuse students in conducting clinically-relevant projects using principles of Evidence-Based Practice. Wish me luck!

2 Responses to Building research capacity in speech and language therapy – Part 1

  1. hbslp says:

    There are some great ideas here about research and EBP within our field. I know that we get EBP drilled into our heads nonstop in grad school, but as a current grad student I honestly feel very blessed to be able to critically look at a study (even a peer-reviewed one) and make meaning of the stats, as well as be able to recognize potential short-comings in the research design. With the strong emphasis on EBP in speech and hearing sciences, we definitely do need to be facilitating more research opportunities for practicing clinicians…because who better to bring fantastic ideas to the table?! When we take into consideration that most of our evidence used for normative data and comparative studies was done on monolingual English speaking children (which is no longer the overwhelming majority in the U.S. and certainly not a majority of any kind in a global sense), there is likely going to be a large need for new research in the near future that is more applicable to the world-wide population of people who speak two or more languages and may acquire and process language differently than we have previously thought! I think it’s great that you are a part of the solution in getting more research supported and moved from an idea to a reality!

  2. Keep up the good work! Your readers might also like to know that Courtenay Norbury is a SALT who has a blog where she’s keeping a diary of experiences running a big research study.
    She also has set up a Language, Literacy and Communication network to foster interactions between researchers and clinicians.

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