A Clinician’s Reflection on Research and Learning

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I don’t know about you, but life has been one winding road over these past few years!

Through the process of starting this blog as a space for me to jot down my thoughts and questions while reading research, I have spent loads of time reading and learning a lot!

It has been quite an interesting journey reading many different research articles, trying to learn more about researchers and hearing their insights, while also trying to conceptualize how that world of statistics and results collides and meshes with our clinical world of patient stories and productivity.

Sharing every review, interview, and resource that has been added here has been a way to lay out what my journey has been like thus far. So I figured this Better-Speech-Hearing Month would be a great time to reflect and share lessons I’ve learned along the way to help those who are either beginning their journey or courageously continuing on.🥰

Hopefully it’s no surprise that reading, interpreting, appraising, and summarizing research articles does NOT come easy to me (if not, there’s your answer!). As a clinician interested in research, I’ve been lucky to connect with researchers who have been kind enough to share some words of wisdom in the series Interview with a Researcher. Along with taking note of some common themes, here are some things I’ve discovered from reading article after article!🤓

5 Things I’ve Learned About Research

1. While data may be black or white…

Science and Research are NOT

We, clinicians, live in a world of gray. Surprisingly, researchers might live in a shade or two as well. The data, all the numbers and the descriptions are meant to be black & white (hence, science😉). But the outcome–(what we are supposed to know after all that analyzed and math-a-matized data)–can still be very gray. Why? Because sometimes the research might only answer one question, for one specific populaton, in one or two specific settings. It also might be black&white when it comes to how research can be carried out, often limiting what answers can even be found or how. That’s why research is always ongoing, because the more you learn, the more you realize you still have more to learn!🤓

2. There will never be a definite answer to your question

I know, I know. Major disappointment to some, not surprising to others. But looking to research to answer a specific or too general of a question (“What do I work on for Mrs. X?” ) is like going to your pantry for something to eat. It’s gonna depend on your mood, what flavors and tastes you’re craving, maybe even what time of day it is or allergies, right? Sometimes I might crave some sweet chocolate, other times I’m bound for something salty and crunchy.

This also applies to research because every patient is a unique example where different methods, techniques, or results might apply. Other times everything may line up but the setting or timing is all wrong. Is it good to be aware of your options that research can provide? Absolutely. Should we get stuck in the concrete thinking that this is how it must be done? Nope. At the end of most articles, authors even typically state all the future research that still needs to be done to refine and help answer more questions (which leads to more questions…see how that works?🔄). Research is always evolving, changing, and developing. We should too as clinicians.🙂

3. It’s tedious and repetitive

It helps to understand that there’s usually a basic format to expect when reading research articles (check out How-To Read a Research Article-Part 1 and Part-2 to get a run down on this!). While every article will use different graphs and descriptions to help a reader understand what they are trying to say (HUGE thank you to all authors giving those Highlights/Need To Know sections in articles🙏🙏!), eventually reading can become a bit more fluid and less of a time-consuming process (unless you’re the one reading to write about it later, of course🤪). After realizing this, I got a bit more comfortable with what to expect which also helped me to notice if a critical piece of info is missing. This takes practice to get used to, which leads me into my next realization……

4. It takes practice, 1 article at a time

I don’t know about you, but I definitely can’t read an article a day, much less a week or month sometimes because- life can be crazy! But, when I do find myself with the time and right mindset, I try to read as much as I can. Sometimes this might be a speed-read looking for something specific, other times it might require more focus to really absorb the information and process it from a clinical-perspective. Whatever works for you, be it 1 hour a week, or one day a month, just practicing reading articles is the best way to discover things you already knew and things you never would have thought! The more you take a look at reseach articles (and no, staring at them on the floor as you walk away doesn’t count😅), the more it can help to start reading with more of a cautious and critical eye. This allows you to decide for yourself what makes sense, what doesn’t, and what other questions you might still have or what answers might have been found.🧐

5. It’s like a recipe, and you are the cook

This is the metaphor I can’t help but think of when it comes to applying research to the clinical world. Sometimes you might need to stick to a recipe you’ve never tried before, making sure every step is precise and exact. At first, you might be harder and less comfortable to think outside of the box. But once you get more familiar with other ingredients, how they work together, or maybe take some extra cooking classes to step your game up, it can be easier to be more creative and fluid with the ingredients to modify as you go. Research is like a recipe because it is simply a guide. But all the foundational skills and knowledge (i.e. anatomy, physiology, principles, etc.) are what can allow us to know what might work best, when, where, how, and why.🤓

5 Things I’ve Learned About Learning

From being a student to putting both feet out in the real world as a clinician, and even years or decades later, we always have a LOT to learn in our field! It is absolutely a process and a journey, (yes even a headache sometimes🥴!), and here are some things that I have experienced and learned while learning🙃:

1. It can be very empowering

Being able to clearly describe my rationale and recommendations to colleagues, other professionals, and patients/families, has felt very different than when I had no dang clue what I was doing or why (although this is still bound to happen sometimes🙃). Learning not just the evidence, but also about people, values, and yourself, can help empower you to stand stronger for recommendations or advocate more often because YOU KNOW the rationale, evidence, or cultural background. I have felt a difference in how much more comfortable I feel advocating for something that I have put in my due diligence in time and effort into.

2. It can be scary

Sometimes opening one door of the unknown can feel like it leads to an entire hidden staircase filled with picture frames showcasing all the things you might have been doing completely wrong this whole time😓. That’s why remembering to take one step at a time can be helpful, because everyone’s gotta start somewhere. It’s always scary learning something new, whether handling a complicated equipment to jam down someone’s throat or trying to decode what an article says–sitting in uncertainty and feeling uncomfortable is actually a necessary process.

Finding others who are eager to learn or that can be supportive (whether near or far) can also make the road a lil less bumpy. As the saying goes, “If you’re the smartest person in the room…find a different room.” Instead of being afraid of being confronted with some wrongs and learning how to do things better, why not lean into the scariness and newness of learning (otherwise, you’d never know anything, right?!)?! When we really think about it, the world is our oyster of information🦪, so pushing through, staying humble, and continuing down that scary stairwell is the way we can get to the empowering other side.🙂

3. It can be super overwhelming

Learning new stuff can be A LOT (hellooo undergrad/grad school😓!!) What has helped me at times in the past is keeping track of things I want to learn more about (or multiple lists for the Type A😅), making timelines, and making big/small goals to try to knock things off the list. I can easily remember a time when I did so many CEU webinars, courses, reading so much in a certain amount of time that I barely even remembered half of it by the end! While doing the work is critical, at the same time making sure to give yourself some grace for where you are at in your journey or even life and taking breaks can also be essential☯️ (if not for your sanity!). I am 100% guilty of being my own worst critic, but often have to remind myself when I’m starting to feel overwhlemed by all the unknowns: Rome certainly wasn’t built in a day😉.

4. It can be exhausting and frustrating

There will always be someone who knows more than you. There will always be something you don’t know. When I finally accepted that (although it’s still a work in progress some days), the immenseness of the unknown was a bit easier to swallow (pun intended😊). So from time to time, I try to remind myself of everything I’ve learned so far. I started doing this as a student and definitely after graduating, and still need this helpful little reminder to be able to acknowledge and see this list grow over time to say: Holy cow look at all that I’ve learned!! Whether it be creating a “Then-Now” list or keeping little tokens to reminisce (I still have the program to my first ever CEU course😅), looking back at how far you’ve actually come can help replace some of that invading frustration with enthusiasm for where you’ll go from here and beyond!

5. It is never-ending, a tad addicting, but incredibly exciting

Seriously though, there’s a limitless world of never-ending things to learn. I’m definitely one of those people who are naturally curious about a lot of things (except being in my oblivious bliss when it comes to math/technology😄). Sometimes, I want to know e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g about everything. Luckily, there’s only 24 hours in a day and so many days in a week and unfortunately I enjoy sleep, eating, and everything in between, so: there’s always tomorrow!😊

But if you’ve ever been to a course, talked with a colleague/peer, or read something that just sends your brain buzzing with excitement, then you’ve probably experienced being “in the zone,” which I can only equate to a “runner’s high,” but for learning!🤓 So when you find a topic or area you’re really passionate about, go with it to ride that learning wave, and remember to help others learn all that you discover along the way!🌊🌊

And there you have it folks!

These are just some things I’ve learned along the way, but I truly look forward to add more as I continue on my journey!🥰

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