Getting Started with Clinical Research

You have a great idea for a study that you’d like to run. How do you get started? This article will provide physiotherapists and other healthcare practitioners with 4 actionable steps to begin a clinical study.

Why get involved in research?

Clinical studies can significantly expand your professional repertoire and your practice by bringing evidence-based research (run by YOU!) to your clients. It seems more intimidating that it is; with some support, anyone can do it. As a clinician, you often have some of the best research questions based on real life experiences with clients. This is what can drive, change and impact clinical practice. We need you to drive the changes in how we offer care!

Step 1. Develop Your Study Idea

Helpful hint: Consider talking to experts in your field, connecting with a research department at your institution or hiring a research consulting service to help you hone in on your study idea.

Questions to help guide your conversations:

  1. What’s the primary objective? (What is the one question you are trying to answer?)
  2. What are the secondary objectives? (What else would be interesting to find out?)
  3. What’s the hypothesis? (What do you expect will happen?)
  4. What tool(s) will you use to measure changes? (What are your outcome measures?)
  5. How long will the study run?
  6. How many participants will you need to recruit?
  7. Is there a gap in the research around clinical practice guidelines?
  8. Is this question clinically meaningful to the profession?

Step 2. Find Funding

To help guide your funding exploration, ask yourself: which groups/stakeholders would this research be most valuable to? Research is a collaborative effort!

Types of research funding may include:

  • Private funding
    • Industry funding (does your study involve the use of a new technology, device, or product? For example: virtual reality goggles, a functional electrical stimulation device, new equipment or tools)
    • Donors with vested interest in your area
  • Grants and awards
    • Government grants
    • Professional awards (through a professionally governing body or association, for example the Canadian Physiotherapy Association)
  • Other organizations (for example, International Association for the Study of Pain, Canadian Physiotherapy Association)

Helpful hint: Don’t be afraid to ask your association or local clinical research experts (links below) about how to find research funding!

Helpful hint: In addition to university researchers having experience in running studies, they may also have resources to assist with writing and administration of government grants (e.g., graduate students who may be interested in your study idea).

Step 3. Educate Yourself!

For research involving human participants, it’s important to make sure you (and your research team, if applicable) are certified to conduct research involving humans.

Build your foundational knowledge by training yourself on human subject protection and ethics, as well as the International Conference on Harmonization’s Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice (commonly referred to as “GCP” guidelines), the gold standard for clinical research conduct (example training link provided below).

Helpful hint: Consider attending research meetings or webinars, and joining research associations (you can search for clinical trials/clinical research groups in your area online) to gain exposure to this topic.

Step 4. Apply for Ethics Approval

Research involving human participants requires approval and oversight by an ethics board (also called an institutional review board (IRB) or research ethics board (REB)). IRBs can be public (e.g., affiliated with public hospitals, academic institutions, or health regions) or private.

Helpful hint: If you’re affiliated with a college or university, a research unit or department may be able to help guide you.

Helpful hint: If you’re affiliated with a private practice, consider reaching out to research organizations (links below) to find private ethics boards in your area.

Useful Links

Questions? Contact me via email

This post was co-authored by:
Tori Etheridge (Arca) is a registered Physiotherapist who is an active member of Physiotherapy Association of British Columbia (PABC) and Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA). She graduated from the University of British Columbia (UBC) with her Masters of Physiotherapy and her Bachelors of Kinesiology.Tori has a special interest in concussions, chronic pain and vestibular disorders. She is passionate about patient engagement and empowerment and has contributed educational pieces for PABC, UBC, Pain BC and the BC balance and dizziness association. Tori has clinical experience working in public healthcare, private practice and neurological research. She has also participated in global health initiatives in Uganda, Africa through UBC’s sustainable orthopedic and trauma group.

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