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Translating Research

Last week my class performed a mock review of our class projects.  The class projects are sample grants we might submit to fund our research.  The writing process is challenging, with only a few pages to make your case, proving the topic is important, the study you’ve designed will answer the question, and you are the researcher to do this study. This is just part of the research process, and is so difficult that in addition to having several “authors” for any grant, the faculty and staff do mock reviews before they are submitted to identify additional changes.  Even then, a good “score” is still hard to get.

Reading a classmate’s grant application is difficult. We each have very different fields of nursing and are using different methods of research, which means when you review an application you are looking at something completely new-to-you and trying to decide what it means and if it will work. Did I tell you this was difficult?  But it turns out this is also an exceptionally good way to learn how to read what your own grant really says. In fact, I had identified multiple ways to improve my grant just by reading my colleagues’ grants.  But this is not the point of the story.

The point of the story occurs not while I am reviewing a classmate’s grant, but while a classmate is reviewing mine. I don’t consider myself a terrific writer, but I don’t think I’m terrible either.  For the most part I have experience writing for readers who are not midwives and need a little help understanding terms.  Still, my poor classmate was terribly lost in my grant – having to reread it several times to understand what was going on and still misunderstanding what I assumed were simple things. Yes, on some level the confusion is to be expected — remember we were reading grants way outside our areas of research and I had to go back and forth through the grant I was reviewing several times to understand what was happening too.  My classmates confusion  had been shared my some of my teachers earlier in the year.  I’m sure this is true in most areas of nursing, but midwifery does not translate easily.

I learned some things by listening to her share her confusion.  I want to share those things with you, because knowing these may help you communicate research findings or even basic pregnancy and birth information to others.

1. The difference between a midwife and an obstetrician is not clear.  My classmate didn’t understand why I included midwives in a study about cesarean rates because midwives cannot perform cesareans. Even though I explained the metric, she couldn’t grasp the idea that a midwife could have a cesarean rate.  When you share research about the differences between midwives and physicians, do people have a correct base of knowledge on which to understand the information?

2. The opposite of a VBAC isn’t obvious.  My project was about understanding the cesarean rate, and one of the metrics was the number of VBACs.  My classmate didn’t understand why I would count only VBACs and thought I should count all vaginal births.  Never mind that the metric was spelled out, and it was written that I was comparing outcomes for women with a previous cesarean.  The point is again that this information meant nothing to her and confused her.  I might have thought she didn’t really read the paper except I have all her really helpful notes to prove that she did read it, and read it very thoughtfully.  So the question is again, when you share research, do people have a correct base of knowledge on which to understand the information?

The point is, what I assumed were simple concepts didn’t make sense to her because she didn’t have any kind of a framework on which to understand why it related to cesareans. Yes she is young and has not had children yet, but this describes most of the primipara population. It can be so easy to take for granted that everyone understands what you already know, but it simply isn’t true.  I firmly believe in the power of asking first, “tell me what you know about midwives,” and starting the conversation from that point.

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Jennifer Vanderlaan CNM MPH is the author of the BirthingNaturally.net website. She has been working with expectant families since 2000, training doulas, childbirth educators, and midwives. She has worked with midwives in Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her interest in public health grew in 2010, and she is now a PhD student learning to become a producer of knowledge.

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