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How Can Clinicians Get Involved in Research?

Stephen C. Allison, PT, PhD

August 21, 2012



If a clinician without research experience has a clinical research question, how would you recommend that this clinician go about starting up a research study?  How would they get in touch with someone who is established in doing research in that area of practice?


In my work, I have collaborated extensively with full time clinicians. I have been so impressed at the energy and insight that has been brought to the table by non-PhD researchers who nevertheless have great clinical expertise and have a passion for adding to the body of literature.

I would suggest that a clinician without research experience become familiar enough with the literature that they can know that any question that they want to approach a collaborator about is a question that has not already been thoroughly addressed in the published literature.  You can do that using the evidence based practice skills that we have discussed in this series of courses on  If you have done that (as well as having formulated your PICO question and searched all of the relevant databases) and you discover a gap in our current knowledge (meaning there is no great level evidence published to address your question that you have as a clinician) then, I would suggest partnering with someone who has experience in that realm. This can be done in a number of ways. First off, you could do a cold call.  Often the email addresses of the corresponding authors are published in papers. You may want to contact the first author and say  'Listen, I am a clinician who has not done a lot of research, but I have access to patients.  I know that you are interested in this subject based on papers that you have published.  Would you be interested in collaborating with me and working with me so that we can collect data?'

One thing to know, in order to collect data in the clinic for research purposes, you must have an Institutional Review Board approve your study.  You can find an IRB in all academic institutions of higher learning and some of the larger healthcare institutions.  If you work at a large medical center there may be an in-house IRB.  You will need help preparing a protocol that gets submitted to that IRB, so you will want to team up with people who have done this before and who know the ropes of submitting a research protocol, can get it through that process and can help collect some data.  

It is very exciting to have clinicians who are into the evidence, know the gaps in the evidence and  are motivated to collaborate with full-time researchers who have the skills and have done this before. 

stephen c allison

Stephen C. Allison, PT, PhD

Stephen C. Allison is a physical therapist engaged in teaching, research, and consultation. He holds degrees from Brigham Young University (BS), Baylor University (MPT), the U.S. Army War College (MSS), and The University of Texas at Austin (PhD). He was a faculty member and Director of the U.S. Army-Baylor University Graduate Program in Physical Therapy at Fort Sam Houston, Texas from 1994 - 2001. He has numerous publications in peer-reviewed journals and serves as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy. Dr. Allison currently holds faculty appointments at Baylor University and Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions, where he holds the Evidence in Motion Chair in Evidence-Based Practice. Dr. Allison is also working for the US Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine to develop computational and statistical models to predict injury and physical performance deficits in military training. He is a nationally known speaker and an expert on the integration of research evidence in clinical practice.

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