For all our scientist members, I want you to take a moment to think back to why you became a speech–language scientist in the first place. Academia as a whole is motivated by knowledge. Motivated by learning. Motivated by the sheer joy of discovering new things. But we, as scientists in a clinical discipline, have the additional privilege of being motivated by changing people’s lives. You probably continue to be inspired by the idea of creating better assessment and treatment strategies in order to help people communicate.
Ah, it feels so good to be an idealistic scientist again for a minute, doesn’t it? Alright—time to break the trance and do a bit of self-evaluation: are you changing people’s lives? If you have a productive research career, you have information out there that is useful. But are clinicians using your research, or is your work trapped in the ivory tower, known only by fellow scientists within your area of expertise, and the few clinicians who read your articles or attend your conference presentations?
Yes, yes, yes. I’m aware that it’s not your job to make sure clinicians use your research. Your “job” is to apply for grants, perform the science, write journal articles, and present at conferences. But, if it’s not your job to make sure your research is being used by clinicians, then whose job is it? (And, P.S., if it’s news to you that many clinicians aren’t using your research, then simply Google “Research to Practice Gap”, and feel the terror for a moment.)
Now, whose fault is this? No one’s, really. All of ours, I guess. It’s scientists’ fault for not regularly communicating with clinicians. It’s universities’ faults (who employ scientists) for tacitly restricting scientists from reaching out, by only awarding them for publications and communication that occur within academia. It’s clinicians’ faults for not searching for evidence more often. It’s the middle man’s fault for not putting both sides in better communication with each other (but who even is the middle man? ASHA? Our state associations? NIH? We have TISLP now, but that’s a drop in the bucket.)
And—perhaps even scarier—it’s not just that clinicians aren’t using up-to-date evidence. Many of them aren’t using research evidence much at all. Scientists are losing the battle to small businesses who sell products to SLPs. The “new stuff” SLPs are using is whatever is most heavily marketed to them. Or, better yet, correctly marketed to them. Some of these businesses produce evidence-based products, some not (most not?). But what they all have in common is an advertising budget that puts them right in front of clinicians. And that should scare all of us. Let me state that again, because it matters now, more than ever: Companies are in the ear of SLPs, not scientists. And it’s one reason why resources like this need to exist at all.
Ensuring that clinicians use clinical techniques based on strong research evidence (your research!) is not easy. But all of us must take a small role in doing our part to put research in the hands of clinicians. So, for the scientists, here are some basic tips:
Step 1) Be aware of current barriers
My personal observation, as both a clinician and a scientist is that there are two primary barriers to SLPs’ awareness of research evidence (use delves deeper… we won’t go there yet).
To clinicians, speech–language research is:
We’ll address these within each of the following steps. Look! I only gave you three steps!
Step 2) Create an online presence
If someone is interested either in you (because of your work that they’ve seen at a conference or read in a textbook) or the topic you study, they need to be able to do a basic internet search to find you. Every scholar should have a professional or lab website, where they share information relevant to the people the research is being done for (clinicians, often!). This is for those go-getter SLPs who are trying to find your work. Don’t make it impossible for them by not having an online existence!
Then, you have to additionally ensure that they can read your stuff. So please try to make sure your work isn’t paywalled behind some exorbitant fee. It’s really quite easy to make most of your research available via your own website or somewhere like ResearchGate. There are even sites dedicated to helping you quickly figure out which version of your paper is legal to post online. For more about how to make your research easily accessible, see this excellent article.
OK, so step one is making sure you exist on the internet. It’s the age of the world wide web, people! The next step is much scarier for some, but I highly suggest you also…
Step 3) Get involved in social media.
It’s great to have your work shared online, so that people who are interested can find it. But you also must get people interested in the first place. Time to reach out!
Social media is no longer a thing for teenagers or millennials. This is a thing for everybody. News flash— millennials are SLPs now. Experienced SLPs, at that. And, perhaps even more where-did-the-time-go: millennials are now assistant and associate professors, too. Yeah.
Now, you may be thinking—yes, but social media isn’t how we communicate research. That’s just not how it’s done. Well it is now, my friend! No matter who you think your audience is, they are on social media. There are currently over 20K SLPs in the Speech Pathologists at Large group on Facebook. There are so many SLP Facebook groups, it's hard to keep up—everything from groups interested in pediatric dysphagia to groups specific to your favorite AAC system. But, some of you don’t communicate with clinicians all that much. Either because it’s not needed for your line of research, or because you just… don’t. If you’re not ready to dive into the SLP groups, fine. But get started by getting your feet wet with fellow scientists, many of whom hang out on Twitter. I’m telling you—you’re missing out on some great conversations if you're not using at least one social media platform! No matter who you want to learn from or talk to, they’re out there, as an audience, and you don’t need to pay airline fare, hotel room, and conference registration to interact.
I know you’re busy. And the responsibility of ensuring impact is enormous. But reaching out to the people who your work matters to is at least partly your job. Clinicians can’t carry the responsibility of evidence-based practice on their shoulders alone.
Below, I'll continue to post additional information related to this conversation:
9/21/16: "...researchers own the conversation..." and "...these platforms represent an unprecedented opportunity for dissemination and knowledge translation..."