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Six great resources for understanding research and statistics

Pharmacy practitioners have fantastic clinical knowledge and skills, they often have great leadership skills and are usually pretty good at educating others. But research skills? This is more variable.

Research skills are vital for practitioners in the pharmacy workforce. In order to understand research papers, you need to be able to interpret the statistics of the study or clinical trial (and not necessarily just rely on what the authors are telling you). In order to improve your services, you need to know how to effectively measure outcomes and use statistical analysis to tell you whether your new service was an improvement. And you need to know how to effectively communicate this to others.

But for many pharmacists, research and statistics are scary words. Which is why we’ve identified some useful resources to help you get your head around it.

This article published in the Pharmaceutical Journal provides an overview and explanations of research-related concepts, such as variables, hypotheses and statistical tests, and it helpfully uses a pharmacy case study to put it into context.

Whilst not pharmacy related, but a good place to start nonetheless, is this blog article written by a US professor. The blog post was written in reaction to debates about the safety of vaccinations and the author’s aim is to help everyone understand a research article so that they can interpret results for themselves. It’s useful in that it points out areas in research papers where you should question or critique, starting with the journal in which it is published and the institution where the research was conducted. It provides suggestions on where you should focus your attention within the research paper and how to think critically about the results presented so that you can form your own conclusions.

For more in depth information, try this book written by experienced pharmacy practitioner and  researcher Professor Felicity Smith. It covers the stages of the research process in logical order, from planning of the project, to research methodology, through to dissemination of the findings.

Although intended primarily for undergraduate and postgraduate students, this guide would be ideal for pharmacy practitioners who are unfamiliar with research methods and conducting research projects.

Similarly, this book on basic statistics is aimed at students, but if you need to start at ground zero it would be ideal. It covers concepts such as types of data, graphical representation of data, distribution, standard deviation, and frequently used statistical techniques such as ANOVA and the chi-squared test. Pharmaceutical examples are given so that you can start to consider how it can fit within your own work.

If you want something to listen to on your commute, try the BBC Radio 4 programme More or Less. A combination of interesting, insightful and educational, each 30-minute programme takes statistics reported in the news and explains if and why they are, or more often are not, accurate. For example, the show recently examined reports on the return of scarlet fever, whooping cough and gout which was attributed to the fall in government spending on the NHS. I’ll leave you to listen to the show to find out whether this is true or not.

And if you’re looking for inspiration on how to present data, look no further than the legendary Hans Rosling, a Swedish physician, academic and statistician whose TED Talks are a wonder to watch and may even turn you into a stats addict.

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