Learning to Think Like a Researcher

Research Boot Camp developing next generation of pharmacy practice researchers

It is Day 3 of the Research Boot Camp, a new ASHP Research and Education Foundation initiative to develop young investigators, and Megan Ehret, Pharm.D., is in the hot seat. Ehret, an assistant professor of pharmacy at the University of Connecticut, has just finished presenting her research study plan to a group of 15 fellow participants and Boot Camp faculty members, part of the 3-day experiential phase of the program. Ehret has detailed her plan to establish a pharmacy consult service at a psychiatric hospital and evaluate the effectiveness of pharmacists in the treatment of patients with bipolar disorder in an inpatient setting.

“Can you involve psychiatrists in your study?” asks Almut Winterstein, a Boot Camp faculty member and Ehret’s research mentor. “Would they accept you correcting their recommendations?”

“There is such a wide variability in treatments for bipolar patients,” muses Kathy Bungay, another faculty member. “I would suggest keeping track of the original recommendation, your recommendation for correction, and then what really happened.”

More questions follow: “What is the average length of stay in your hospital?” “What are you hoping to fix?” “Will you have a control group?” “Will you include patients who have been readmitted?” “How will you use a rating scale?”

Next up is Jasmine Gonzalvo, Pharm.D., a clinical assistant professor at Purdue University. She plans to identify the number of community pharmacists in the United States who speak Spanish with their patients, assess their needs, and then develop a pilot education program to assist them in improving their communication with those patients.

“I have a challenging question,” says Winterstein. “You are not a Spanish teacher, so how do you propose to develop a course?”

Fellow participant Ehret speaks up about her experience as a non-Spanish-speaking pharmacist who once worked in Miami: “When I was asked if I wanted to learn Spanish, I said I didn’t know if I could learn Spanish! It’s a very complex problem, and I’m not sure if community pharmacists will want the additional challenge of learning a new language.”

One by one, each Boot Camp participant presents his or her plan to fellow young investigators, all of which are pharmacists with minimal experience in conducting practice-based research. Since March of this year, they have participated in a self-study, online lectures and other distance-learning methods while developing a research project outline.

In May, they gathered at the ASHP Foundation national headquarters to participate in short lectures on key research topics, work in small groups with Boot Camp faculty to develop related components of the project plan. Afterwards, they returned home to develop their research grant applications and proceed through an ASHP Foundation grant application process. Each participant will receive a $5,000 grant from the ASHP Foundation as well as a matching $5,000 grant in funds or resources from their home institutions to complete their research study.

“As a junior faculty member, it was really important for me to learn how to do research correctly and effectively,” says Gonzalvo. “There are very few resources to help us pursue quality research, so I thought the Research Boot Camp would be an amazing opportunity to help me do that. The program links us up with a research mentor, gets our feet wet with some initial grant application writing and hooks us up with faculty involved with the program.”

Gonzalvo has a network of other Purdue faculty members whom she could approach on her own to brainstorm about research study questions. The requirement for identification of a local advisor provided Gonzalvo with an opportunity to establish a mentoring relationships with a highly successful researcher on the Purdue Faculty, Dr. Karen Hudmon. “My research plan was completely turned upside down by the Boot Camp – in a good way!” she says. “I came with an idea, but a lot of logistical, study design issues came to light that, as an inexperienced researcher, I just didn’t identify. The experienced researchers pointed those out, and my study was then broken down into feasible steps that could be accomplished.”

Ehret had experience in laboratory research but wanted to learn how to conduct practice-based research, so “this was a perfect opportunity,” she says. “During my residency, I was just learning about psychiatry. The research mentors at my home institution would probably help me, but to be able to come to the ASHP Foundation for 3 days and have one-on-one meetings with four different experienced pharmacist investigators was great. We obtained feedback that we might not have received at our own sites.”

She found that her study – just as Gonzalvo’s had – changed dramatically. “I came in with 10 to 12 different outcomes that I thought I could look at,” she says. “I did not realize that some of those outcomes may not be important. For example, I had a rating scale to measure whether a patient’s depression was improving while in my facility. Dr. Bungay said, ‘Rating scales are nice, but people are going to get better whether or not you are there, simply because they are in a hospital.’ She pointed out that I needed to figure out an outcome that is going to change because I, as a pharmacist, am there.”

Both Ehret and Gonzalvo are now completing their grant applications and moving to the next phase of the Research Boot Camp – actually conducting their studies, which must be completed within 2 years of receiving funding. Both are enthusiastic about their experience and excited about serving as principal investigators for the first time.

“This has been one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had thus far as a faculty member,” says Ehret. “My dean is very excited to launch a pharmacy consult service and to be able to measure what it’s providing, and my hospital will benefit from the service as well. I want to determine what a pharmacist provides to a patient that isn’t already provided from a standard treatment team. It’s going to be challenging, but if our measurements show that the consult service is a good tool, we will be able to roll it over into other disease states.”

“‘Essential’ is the word I would use to describe the Research Boot Camp,” says Gonzalvo. “I think differently now. I didn’t know how to think realistically from a research perspective, and I had grand ideas of what should be studied. The Boot Camp really opened my eyes to a different way of thinking and how to accomplish research effectively with objective, feasible steps.”

The ASHP Foundation is dedicated to developing the next generation of pharmacy practice researchers. The Foundation’s strategic plan calls for an expansion of the number of pharmacists conducting practice-based research in health systems and improvement of  the rigor of the research conducted. As residency trained pharmacists assume combined clinical practice positions, they could benefit from research training that would help them be successful in academia. Those junior faculty members need training and education in how to conduct high-quality research that will produce significant results in improving patient outcomes that can be duplicated in numerous hospitals and health systems.

The Research Boot Camp is the latest addition to the ASHP Foundation’s portfolio of initiatives to meet this strategic goal. Other initiatives include:

• Education programs on interesting research principles into Medication Use Evaluation (offered at ASHP Midyear Clinical and Summer Meeting)
• Junior investigator research grant programs, including the Federal Services Junior Investigator Research Grant, the Junior Investigator Research Grant and the Pharmacy Resident Practice-Based Research Grant.
• Residency research tips, which are available on the Foundation’s Web site distributed by e-mail and are also included in grant application materials.
• Online Research Resource Center, which contains links to numerous resources that support new investigator development.

For more information about the ASHP Foundation and its various programs to assist health-system pharmacists develop basic research skills, visit our online Research Resource Center.

Read more -- return to Impact, Fall 2008.