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4 Things to Avoid When Doing Research as a Physical Therapist

In the second installment of my research series, I explained how to read research in as little time as possible. In my third and final installment, I will explain how not to do research. Warren Buffet’s mentor, Benjamin Gharam once told Buffett that the key to success is to “make as few mistakes as possible.” So if you only follow the advice in this article and ignore the second article, you will still be an astute consumer of research.

The last article was somewhat lengthy. My goal was to make the process as easy and efficient as possible to save you time, but also to present a systematic way to do research. This article will be shorter, but no less important.

Here are 4 simple “don’ts” that will help you become a research champion.

1) Don’t say “I’ll read it tomorrow.”

It was the Chinese philosopher Lau Tsu who said, “do hard things when they’re easy.” Today reading research is easy. Research
Tomorrow it will be harder because the pile of articles you want to read is higher. If you wait too long, eventually you will never do it. That’s why I encourage you to set aside a specific time each day, or each week, to read the research. I prefer to do it in the morning before work and before I have any interruptions in my day, but it’s your choice.

2) Do not be overwhelmed.

Personally, this is my biggest barrier to research. What the hell do I read? The proliferation of information is staggering. More information has been produced since 2003 than before 2003. There are potentially hundreds of article, dozens of textbooks, dozens of con-ed courses, and now at least a dozen quality PT podcasts. It’s easy to be overwhelmed. The solution is not to try to consume everything. You could read 24 hours a day every day and you still would not be able to consume even 1% of the available research. There’s a term among businessmen and investors called “fear of missing out” or FOMO. Here’s a sad fact: you will not be able to read or learn everything you want to. You will have to make tough choices. You will have to be judicious. That’s okay. As long as you are reading or learning something, you are becoming a better clinician. Remember the key is to make as few mistakes as possible.

3) Do not rely on social media.

You should be on social media although not 24 hours a day like some people. I know PT’s love social media to communicate, but do not use it to find research. I was at CSM and someone during a lecture suggested that someone make a Facebook page so that it would be easier to find research. Here’s why I don’t recommend social media: someone else is finding the research, and the research you read is biased because the articles you read were suggested by people that you agree with. Remember, one of the reasons you should do research is to challenge the ideas you already have, not to confirm them. Eric Meira of PT Inquest strongly urges PT’s to avoid social medias as a way to find research:

“Social media is the WORST place to get your research. What you will get is the cherry-picked greatest hits from people you already agree with. Huge mistake. Remember, in order to find the truth you need to challenge your beliefs, not confirm your biases. You need a more complete exposure.”

4) Do not base your practice on one study, regardless of the authors, the expense, the letters behind the names of the authors, the conclusion, the title, etc.

“Most people over-react to one study,” says Eric Chaconas, assistant director of physical therapy at the University of Saint Augustine, FL, and also a fellow of association of orthopedic manual physical therapists (FAAOMPT). “People usually use their own bias to agree or disagree with the published literature. Rarely do you see people come in with an open mind and be unbiased when they interpret evidence.”
One study is one study, and every study has limitations. No study can exactly replicate the real world or your specific clinic. The summation of literature is what should persuade you to change the way you practice. There is evidence for EVERYTHING (ghosts, demons, afterlife, near-death experience, aliens, etc.) but you need to discern what is true and what is not. It takes 15-17 years for research to be implemented consistently. That’s too long, but don’t change your approach every day either. The best way to do that is to consume research: “Most PT’s don’t dedicate much time to getting better at research critique,” Chaconas says. “Signing up to be a reviewer for a journal is a great way to do this, research consumption and critique is a skill that one has to constantly hone just like anything else.”

I hope you have enjoyed this series. I’ve tried to present a systematic way to do research as efficiently as possible.

Here are the key points:

-Research is important. It’s your duty and obligation, not a choice. You should be constantly evolving. Don’t ever be content. Don’t rely on others (i.e.- social media) to do research for you.

– Be consistent. Set aside a certain time to do research. Otherwise, you won’t do it. Remember, aim for an article a day.

– Read only a few journals. They should be articles you have full access to. If you go to school, you should have full access. If you’re an alumnus, ask your school for full access. You deserve it.

-Don’t worry about everything you’re missing (FOMO). You won’t be able to read everything. It’s okay.

-Don’t change your practice based on one article but change at some point. Don’t be the therapist who’s just now finding out that faith-based therapy doesn’t work.

-Read critically. Don’t skip the results and discussion. That’s the best part! You should read the entire article if the article interests you. Read the abstract and conclusion to see if the article interests you.

About Brett Kestenbaum

NSU grad 2014. I took my first job at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego shortly after graduating, and since then built and for all the new grad PT's out there :).

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