Challenging research

Professor Margaret Johnson, RCP academic vice president gives her view on the barriers to research.

Research saves lives. We know that patients in research-active institutions have better outcomes than those in other institutions, and are more likely to benefit from earlier access to new treatments, technologies and approaches. In turn, doctors become better versed in the literature of their field, and develop transferable skills and enquiring minds. I believe there should be a place for every physician who wants to be engaged with research activity but many doctors have reported barriers to getting involved such as time, funding and skills.

I believe there should be a place for every physician who wants to be engaged with research activity but many doctors have reported barriers to getting involved such as time, funding and skills.

As academic vice president at the RCP and active researcher who has found enormous satisfaction in my specialist field of respiratory and HIV medicine, I wanted to share with you just some of the perceived barriers highlighted by the RCP report Research for all.

There is no time to do research

Time was one of the biggest barriers highlighted in Research for all, and 64% of doctors asked would like to be more involved in research if they could but many do it in addition to their clinical hours. Protected time for research is really important and despite pressures on front line services, research is not a luxury, but an essential part of healthcare. The first step is asking for protected time, which can be daunting but also rewarding!

You have to have academic training to be a researcher

There are many and varied opportunities to become involved in research, not all of which require significant research experience. From helping to recruit patients to publishing a paper, undertaking a quality improvement project or developing new guidelines - there are many opportunities to assist or lead research activity and gain new experiences. Training is something that can be continued at any stage of a physician’s career and the RCP is working to ensure that physicians are supported to engage with research at any stage of their career, it is not a case of ‘missing the boat’.

Research is about conducting clinical trials

Yes, but that is only part of it. Research is broader than many people think, including activities such as quality improvement, audit, epidemiology and translational research which all have a huge impact on patient care.

The ethics approval process is too complicated

This was ranked 6th out of 23 barriers to research in Research for all. The ethics approval process can be daunting for many researchers and the perception is perhaps more than just a stereotype, however the Health research Authority’s new approvals system aims to address this and streamline the process. You can find out more about ethics approval from your R&D department or the Health Research Authority before starting a research project. Mentoring is also a great way to find out more about issues such as research ethics in a more informal setting, when it is convenient to you.

Mentoring is also a great way to find out more about issues such as research ethics in a more informal setting, when it is convenient to you.

Supporting research-active physicians is a key priority for the Royal College of Physicians and a key theme of the Future Hospitals Programme, particularly engaging patients in the process. The Research for all report draws on the findings of a 2015 survey of almost 2000 doctors, exploring the current barriers to engagement in medical research. It identified what physicians saw as the main barriers to research and sought to discover ways in which these challenges could be addressed. Listed above are just a few barriers, you can read more in our full report Research for all and find out more about how the RCP will be taking forward the recommendations to reduce barriers to research. To find out how you can get more involved in research, take a look at the Research Engagement Toolkit.

Find out more about the RCP's policy work or get involved and join the conversation via twitter using @RCPLondon