Learning to combine practice and research: an emerging role in occupational therapy

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Virginia Tech

Clinical research has been identified with key occupational therapy issues such as professionalization and establishing the efficacy of practice within the competitive health care marketplace. The natural clinical practice setting provides the optimum environment for conducting research pertaining to practice, and a small but growing number of practitioners have managed to integrate research and practice in such an environment. While there has been a significant amount of literature advocating research involvement for practitioners primarily involved in clinical practice, no formal studies existed of the complex factors affecting a therapist's ability to integrate research with practice.

This exploratory, descriptive study investigated an emerging role in occupational therapy: therapists who combine practitioner and researcher roles in their daily work with patients in clinical settings. Four major research questions were posed: (a) How does an occupational therapy practitioner adopt the practitioner /researcher role? (b) What activities constitute research in clinical settings? (c) How does the clinical environment affect research activities? and (d) What educational experiences do practitioner /researchers describe as important for accomplishing research in clinical settings? Goals were to develop an understanding of the emerging role by identifying personal, environmental, and educational factors, and determining their importance for current practitioners while obtaining recommendations for others.

A custom-designed questionnaire was sent to the practitioner /researcher population (N = 116); the response rate was 89% (103). Quantitative analyses included measures of central tendency and variability. The Number Cruncher Statistical System computer program assisted with quantitative analyses and the Ethnograph computer program assisted written questionnaire analyses. Demographic information was collected to enhance data interpretation.

Major findings include: (a) learning circumstances focusing on performance and application of clinical research were important for adopting a dual practice/research role; (b) research activities reflected the evolving character of the role; (c) support from facility administration and a personal commitment to research were critical for success; (d) formal courses were important for current research, but so were informal discussions regarding application and problem solving. A lack of opportunities for continuing education in research was reported. Implications for university curricula, continuing education, and clinical environments are discussed. Recommendations for future research are presented.