Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Intern Research: Surveys Aren’t Easy

As a part of our internship, we experienced the thrill, exhaustion and excitement involved in conducting research. As a three-member team, we completed a research project on the knowledge and comfort level of Registered Dietitians (RDs) in recommending vitamin and mineral supplements.

The first and most difficult task in completing research was hammering out the research question. It was amazing that one question could lead to so many others. For example, our group spent hours discussing what the word comfort meant to each of us. Defining the research question was an important process to go through, and as an added benefit, we learned a lot about fellow group members.

The literature review revealed little research on the topic of our research question. At first, this made us nervous. However, with time, we realized that it was exciting to be the first to help explore a question key to dietetic practice. The next step was to go through the process of getting ethical approval from Fraser Health and from UBC. In other words, “read the fine print”. This was the part where three ‘big-picture’ people ran into trouble and where detail-oriented people (not on our team) would have thrived.

The concept of using a survey to gather information seemed simple, but we learned that it was not. Developing survey questions that asked for the specific information we wanted was very challenging. We discovered that it was extremely valuable to test questions with a focus group as much as possible. We were told (more then once) to avoid double negatives. So, of course, during data analysis we noticed we had still created a question for which the resulting data was a very confusing double negative. Specifically, the result to one of the questions was that ‘RDs are not feeling it was their role to make vitamin and mineral supplement recommendations’. Confused yet?

In our overzealous excitement and eagerness, we ended up asking too many questions that were interesting of course, but did not actually help us answer the research question we had set out to answer or to address our research objectives. For example, our research question
was registered dietitians’ practices in recommending vitamin and mineral supplements. We asked questions about the barriers that prevent RDs from making vitamin/mineral recommendations and what sorts of things would help them improve their comfort level. Although it was very hard to leave some questions out of our results and discussion, having to do so suggested that there are many unanswered questions around this topic.

In general, the research process for our group involved the following things: approximately 10,000 emails, several 1:00 a.m. conference calls, about 100 to-do lists, a couple dinner parties, and a pretty satisfying end-result.

Overall, we found the research component of internship very challenging and interesting. We gained an appreciation for people who contribute to furthering the dietetic profession by completing research, and learned the basics of how to complete a research project from
beginning to end. That being said, the most important things that we learned were how to be effective group members and how not to do surveys.


Karol Traviss, RD for helping us through the process of survey development. Dr. Cathy Morley, RD for helping us find our way out of that huge mess of data. Liz Da Silva, RD and Sian-Hoe Cheong,
RD for being there every step of the way.


Jaclyn Smith, RD(t)
New Westminster, BC
T: (778) 397-2087

Damaris Campbell, RD(t) and
Jill Wallace, RD(t)


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