For a positive impact to be made, the results of our research must be accessible to those who stand to benefit from it.
There is a moment when the great roots of a tree finally bellow their last breath and relinquish their hold on the moist undercarriage of soil. The forest watches as their elder slowly leans over and drops to its knees as the sheer mass of decaying cellulose crashes into the leaves and brush scattered across the ground. Cacophonic vibrations rip through the air, but no one is there to listen. Did it make a sound?
If we want our research to have an impact, it must have observers, it must have listeners, and it must be heard. A vast quantity of science is lost year after year in the annals of journals andcitations without ever reaching the public. This is wasteful at best and immoral at worst; scientific research elucidates insights that can improve the quality of day-to-day life, relieve the pain and anguish of disease and affliction, and even save lives. For this positive impact to be made, the results of our research must be accessible to those who stand to benefit from it. It is important to put as much effort into distributing our research as we do into conducting it.
I am becoming a pharmacist because I want to help make pharmacy more equitable, accessible, and effective. Throughout my first year as a pharmacy student, I wondered why my textbooks, slides, and lectures kept referring to concepts like patient outcomes, disease prevention, and overall health as if they were a novelty. I was surprised to learn that these common sense measures had only recently become the focus of health care. Quality is important not just to my career as a pharmacist; it also is part of why I applied to pharmacy school in the first place. Quality focuses on effective health care—not just on managing disease but also on building a society that gets less sick, less often. Patient-centered care should be the minimum, and education and empowerment should be a priority.
THE CHALLENGE: BUILD PUBLIC AWARENESS
I want to challenge my fellow pharmacists and student researchers to do more than research. I call upon my peers to build new, creative, and innovative ways to bring our research to a public that deserves to learn from our work. Medicine does not exist within the papers of a results section; rather, it provides benefit when it coexists with well-informed doctors, pharmacists, and patients. Too often, standard practices are not updated, new information is not distributed, and positive life benefits are not conferred because our research is not heard. We must challenge ourselves to build public awareness when we make discoveries. Public health may begin in laboratories, but it ends in the minds and bodies of the population.
I plan to bring the results of my research on treating childhood schizophrenia to the neighborhood of Harlem, New York, by distributing free pamphlets that will contain accessible information and resources that can be understood by anyone willing to read them. My research shows the potential importance of considering first-generation antipsychotic medications for treating schizophrenic children and adolescents and will be a part of a wider campaign to raise awareness that all potential drugs should be considered for the best possible health outcomes. The goal is to put psychiatrists and physicians in the best position to treat childhood- and early-onset schizophrenia by arming them with information about all medication options, along with their benefits and adverse effects.
Educational outreach will also target patients and their families to inform and empower them to take a more active role in their treatment and health care. It will require innovation and courage to transform the results of research into essential and actionable advice that patients can use to make decisions as soon as they close the pamphlet. Meta research on making the research accessible must be performed.
This is where surveys and user experience testing come into play. Let us learn from the industries around us that use these tools to market their value and their products to the public. Strategies that prove effective to advertise and market products can do the same for life-improving research; in light of this, I plan to test the effectiveness of a variety of pamphlets and actively respond to user feedback to improve the efficiency and clarity of the presentation. Information cannot just be distributed; it needs to be distributed effectively.
We must become leaders in an era of quality care by taking it upon ourselves to teach our fellow professionals and the public. Providing the highest level of service and care to the population necessitates an informed population. It is not enough to discover lifesaving results; we must use those results to save lives.
BRIGITTE AZZI is a 2020 PharmD candidate at the Touro College of Pharmacy. As a participant in the Pharmacy Quality Alliance—CVS Health Foundation Scholars
Program, she is researching antipsychotic medication used for children and adolescents with schizophrenia.