Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Deep Impact?

If you were asked to name three pieces of  medical research that demonstrated "impact" what would you come up with? The discovery of penicillin?  Cloning? The mapping of the human genome? Advances in stem cell therapy? Now suppose I asked you to name three pieces of nursing research with similar impact? Anything...? 

In 2009 the Royal College of Nursing Research Society celebrated it's 50th anniversary by asking the same question. The names that garnered the most votes were Felicity Stockwell (1972), Patricia Benner (1984) and Jack Hayward (1975) and the overall winner was Florence Nightingale (1859). Thus, what is perceived as the most influential nursing research of the last fifty years is actually 150 years old. I'd even go so far as to suggest that what Nightingale's work has is longevity rather than influence. Are there no current nursing studies that can demonstrate impact? Doesn't look like it!

Why is this a problem? Across the UK academics are becoming increasingly exercised about this notion of impact since the next evaluation of research output (Research Excellence Framework) will be focusing upon this very thing.  This is a particular challenge for nursing since the high quality research from this discipline can take a considerable time to translate into changes in clinical practice.  In addition, it can take a long time for a piece of work to attain a critical mass of citations which are seen as further validation of the importance of the work. Publish a paper about smashing protons together in the LHC and your paper will achieve mega citations, come up with a useful way of assessing quality in an acute pain service and pray your citation rate reaches double figures before 2014.

This doesn't bode well for nursing research unless we find a way to redefine "impact"

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  1. 'Imoact' for me in nursing is less about the high level impacts as you've described but more about the small applied ones that make a difference to individuals of small groups rather than the whole world. Nursing is an applied art and science for me and anything that evidences good outcomes from the application of nursing (or other) interventions is what works for me. Small is beautiful - but it's not always celebrated like the bigger stuff.

  2. Meant "impact" not "imoact" - lost my glasses and this type font is very small!

  3. Could not agree with you more. However, and especially when in a REF period, some novice and developing researchers and research groups are attempting to bid for big studies from research councils which they have no chance of getting, just because of the "impact" thing. Not only is this de-motivating it's a waste of their time. Why spend 9 months on a £250,000 bid that you won't get when you could spend the time on 5 £50,000 bids which you will get, can be completed in 12-18 months and will have local impact?

    We need to (a) punch our weight and (b) have the courage of our convictions to make the case for this type of research