Improving best practice through nursing and midwifery research

As nurses and midwives have you ever thought about conducting or being part of a research project?

Dean Whitehead, the lead author/editor of Nursing and Midwifery Research: Methods and Appraisal for Evidence Based Practice, says, research holds obvious appeal for nurses and midwives who appreciate “structured processes”.

“Research is a logical and structured process. The process unfolds the same way each time, regardless of methodology, with the formulation of research ideas/problems through to dissemination of findings,” Dr Whitehead explains.

“I believe that this appeals to busy practitioners (nurses and midwives) who engage best practice with structured processes in terms of development… Add to this the close relationship of research to ‘best practice’, evidence-based practice and knowledge translation and, hopefully, practitioners appreciate its applicability to practice.”

The ANMJ spoke to Dr Whitehead, who is also currently employed by the University of Tasmania and is an Adjunct at Flinders University, about research, its adaptability and where its value lies for nurses and midwives.

ANMJ: Before participating in a research project, what relationship should nurses and midwives develop between their research focus and their clinical work?

Dean Whitehead (DW): For me, it is thinking about how research is intertwined with “best practice”, rather than seeing research as something separate to clinical practice, that it is an essential part of evidence-based practice and quality-related clinical outcomes. Practitioners often think about research projects in ‘isolation’ – and this is when they are least effective.

ANMJ: What kinds of research projects are most effective at innovating patient care?

DW: The most effective research projects are those that aim to be pragmatic (practical) and transformative.

Rather than ‘research for research’s sake’ … we should strive to conduct research that directly impacts clinical practice and achieves the broadest outcomes possible. That is why, personally, I have long championed mixed methods approaches to research – such as Action Research.

ANMJ: For a nurse or midwife looking to reconnect with a research practice, outside of academia, what is the best way to initiate this process?

DW: A tricky question for me – having been in academia for 25 years. I don’t personally see a disconnect. For me, for a “pure” clinician to conduct research, they inevitably need to connect with and engage with academia.

Such support systems are already in place. Take, for instance, professional doctorates. Outside of academia, then there is Industry but, hopefully, Industry and academia also collaborate. The essence, therefore in my mind, of reconnecting – is research ‘networking’.

ANMJ: Australia has a long tradition of punching above its weight in nursing and midwifery research. What is it about local nursing and midwifery that produces those within the profession with a holistic understanding of the full breadth of their practice?

DW: I’m a British/Kiwi, and having lived in Australia for six years, note the strong tradition. The way I see it is that different states/territories have different research cultures which are unique, and when combined and collaborating, makes for a rich research ‘melting pot’ overall.

It brings me to the ‘tradition’ of the Nursing and Midwifery Research text that I author/edit. Each new edition draws on different authors/experts from all states/territories, across academia, clinical practice, and research industry.

It is an ever-evolving ‘vibrant’ community that, in my opinion, builds upon and improves each edition. It celebrates breadth of research/practice across all nursing and midwifery disciplines and settings.

ANMJ: Was there anything else that you wanted to mention that sits outside of these questions but that you think is important?

DW: The only thing I will add, as I’ve mentioned several times already, is that when we consider and mention ‘research’ that we automatically relate that to evidence-based practice.

It’s a much broader context than research alone, and it is that broader context (more recently aligned to knowledge translation) that seeks to ‘bridge the gap’ between academic/clinical research and clinical practice.

The more that this occurs, the more relevant it seems to all, and the more likely we engage with it from a CPD perspective.

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