Dispatches from Implementation Science at NCI

Reflections on Training Opportunities in Implementation Science

Wynne E. Norton, PhD, Program Director, IS Team

July 2019

As we close out another cycle of the Training Institute in Dissemination and Implementation in Cancer (TIDIRC) and approach the beginning of a new cycle of the Training Institute in Dissemination and Implementation Research in Health (TIDIRH exit disclaimer), I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on educational programs in implementation science. I have been fortunate enough to have been both on the trainee side and the faculty side, first as a Fellow in the Implementation Research Institute, next as university faculty for a graduate-level course, and finally as faculty over the past few cycles of TIDIRC and TIDIRH. It’s been great to have this dual perspective and to see how the programs have evolved over time.

Leaders in IS early on recognized the importance of cultivating the next generation of implementation researchers. One of the earliest formal training programs, the Implementation Research Institute (IRI exit disclaimer), has been a tremendous asset to the field: to date, it has trained 75 fellows and created a wonderful, collegial network of collaborators. I was lucky enough to be in the inaugural 2010-2011 IRI cohort, which has had a profound impact on my career and from which I have benefitted greatly. I know fellows in other cohorts feel the same way.

Following the formative IRI program, additional trainings have been developed and adapted to meet the diverse needs of trainees, including graduate students, faculty, and practitioners. Programs have leveraged diverse delivery formats, as well, including multiday workshops, academic courses, preconference workshops, and online certificate programs. For example, the Practicing Knowledge Translation (PKT exit disclaimer) program is a professional development course for implementation practitioners. The Mentored Training in Dissemination and Implementation Research in Cancer (MT-DIRC exit disclaimer) program, which has trained 55 fellows over the years, is tailored to cancer control researchers. TIDIRH targets researchers across health areas, and was recently adapted to use both in-person and distance-based formats to deliver content and facilitate peer learning. Similarly, TIDIRC—an adapted version of TIDIRH—uses the same format but focuses on cancer control researchers. Collectively, TIDIRH and TIDIRC have trained approximately 450 researchers. In tandem, and not surprisingly, the field has seen an increasing number of D&I grant applications, funding opportunities, publications and textbooks, and interest groups across a range of health disciplines.

The demand for IS training programs continues to outweigh the supply. Each year, TIDIRC and TIDIRH receive 200-300 applications for approximately 50 slots. Preconference workshops have been standing-room-only, and availability for multiday intensive programs have reached capacity weeks in advance of registration due date. Expert implementation researchers and mentors continue to be in high demand. Some programs have made training materials available in the public domain, as we plan to do later this year for TIDIRC, webinar recordings, recommended readings, and assignments. As with others who have made these resources available, we hope this will help meet the needs of those interested in moving into the field but unable to participate in other training opportunities.

Former trainees of these programs have developed creative ways to increase interest and awareness of IS among their professional circles and within their institutions. For example, some trainees have presented introductory talks on IS as part of grand rounds in schools of medicine, or have had their implementation research featured in local press or academic newsletters. Others have collaborated with institutional Clinical and Translational Science Awards to provide feedback on proposed IS pilot studies, and integrated IS components into graduate medical education programs. Of course, practice-based implementation skills must not be overshadowed by research skills. To this end, schools of medicine, public health, nursing, allied health, and others are well positioned to develop co-learning opportunities to apply IS knowledge to practice through internships and projects.

Moving forward, it is clear that IS training programs will continue to be in high demand, and additional programs are needed to expand the community of implementation researchers. As we know from empirical research, providing educational materials is necessary but oftentimes insufficient to lead to significant change in knowledge, skills, or behavior. Making training materials available in the public domain is a critical step, but will likely need to be supplemented with other effective and efficient approaches.

We are interested in your thoughts and feedback on this topic. We encourage you to contribute to the conversation using #TrainingIS on Twitter and tag our Twitter handle @NCI_ImplSci. We are particularly interested in your thoughts on the questions below:

  • What are some ways in which you’ve generated interest in IS among your colleagues? At your own institution? Among your students or mentees?
  • What innovative approaches have you used to train practitioners in evidence-based implementation?
  • What suggestions do you have for how to supplement publicly available materials from IS training programs? Distance-based mentorship? Peer-to-peer networks? Crowdsourcing feedback on ideas from the broader community of implementation researchers?
  • How could one scale-up existing IS training programs? What adaptations might be needed to go-to-scale or to meet the needs of different trainees (e.g., doctoral students, researchers in low- and middle-come countries, policymakers)?   

It would be great to generate some chatter on this topic! With enough responses, we could collate and summarize your feedback and use the information to help identify promising next steps and areas for improvement in training the next generation of experts in IS.


Wynne Norton
Dr. Wynne Norton is a Program Officer for the Implementation Science Team in the Office of the Director in the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the National Cancer Institute. Read More »


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