Bursaries, writing grants and fellowships: a strategy to develop research capacity in primary health care
Farmer, Elizabeth Ann
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Background General practitioners and other primary health care professionals are often the first point of contact for patients requiring health care. Identifying, understanding and linking current evidence to best practice can be challenging and requires at least a basic understanding of research principles and methodologies. However, not all primary health care professionals are trained in research or have research experience. With the aim of enhancing research skills and developing a research culture in primary health care, University Departments of General Practice and Rural Health have been supported since 2000 by the Australian Government funded 'Primary Health Care Research Evaluation and Development (PHCRED) Strategy'. A small grant funding scheme to support primary health care practitioners was implemented through the PHCRED program at Flinders University in South Australia between 2002 and 2005. The scheme incorporated academic mentors and three types of funding support: bursaries, writing grants and research fellowships. This article describes outcomes of the funding scheme and contributes to the debate surrounding the effectiveness of funding schemes as a means of building research capacity. Methods Funding recipients who had completed their research were invited to participate in a semi-structured 40-minute telephone interview. Feedback was sought on acquisition of research skills, publication outcomes, development of research capacity, confidence and interest in research, and perception of research. Data were also collected on demographics, research topics, and time needed to complete planned activities. Results The funding scheme supported 24 bursaries, 11 writing grants, and three research fellows. Nearly half (47%) of all grant recipients were allied health professionals, followed by general practitioners (21%). The majority (70%) were novice and early career researchers. Eighty-nine percent of the grant recipients were interviewed. Capacity, confidence, and level of research skills in ten core areas were generally considered to have improved as a result of the award. More than half (53%) had presented their research and 32% had published or submitted an article in a peer-reviewed journal. Conclusion A small grant and mentoring scheme through a University Department can effectively enhance research skills, confidence, output, and interest in research of primary health care practitioners.