Reflections of a Health Communication Fellow with the Implementation Science Team
By Laurie Hursting, MA
My first week as a communications fellow with the Implementation Science team involved fireworks. Literally because of the Fourth of July, but also because I was so excited. I’d received my master’s degree in mass communication (interdisciplinary health communication) in May from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and previously worked as a research assistant at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. This background provided an understanding of how behavioral health interventions are conducted for scientific knowledge and how the study findings are then communicated. Joining the Implementation Science team was an opportunity to go another step further—to support the research and practice community in putting knowledge into practice.
The following week saw me jumping into the deep end of implementation science for two key events: the Training Institute for Dissemination and Implementation Research in Cancer (TIDIRC) Facilitated Course and the inaugural Implementation Science Consortium in Cancer (ISCC). A couple months later the team would launch TIDIRC OpenAccess to make the online training materials available to all. During the Consortium, open-ended questions were posed using an online interactive presentation and polling software, with responses anonymously shown in real-time. I conducted a thematic analysis of these responses and other participant feedback to provide insight into the current state of the field and its future direction. Participants in the ISCC meeting consistently emphasized the importance of broad collaborations to engage diverse researchers, practitioners, clinicians, communities, and other stakeholders, and additionally identified health equity as a top priority. The very nature of implementation science seems incompatible with a mindset of academic silos, and that stands out as an intrinsic strength to the field.
From the beginning it has been clear to me that the Implementation Science team recognizes the inherent value of and need for collaboration within the field, a corresponding emphasis of implementation science itself. The research community is not only invited to the table, they actively help to set it by providing feedback, serving as TIDIRC faculty, presenting on Implementation Science Webinars, and engaging with the team on Twitter . Though as was echoed throughout the ISCC, the field needs to improve its engagement of practitioners, as they are often underrepresented at such events. I’ve been thinking about the reciprocal benefit of researcher and practitioner partnerships—the use of research to inform practice, and practice to likewise inform research. One way to facilitate this type of engagement may be to proactively align research priorities with practice needs in addition to research gaps. Efforts are being made, as this past fall saw the Implementation Science Centers in Cancer Control (ISC3) initiative feature "implementation laboratories" to involve clinical and community sites.
The 12th Annual Conference on the Science of Dissemination and Implementation in Health punctuated the halfway mark of my year-long fellowship. I was struck by the magnitude of this conference, and that the size did not detract from a collegial sense of community. Implementation science brings together many interested parties from different domains, which sometimes led to purview or semantics confusion. The goal of bridging the research-to-practice gap is a unifying force and allowed for the diffusion of implementation science perspectives into other disciplines, and vice versa. However, I was eager for more talks, presentations, and posters on dissemination! I find there to be dramatically less “D” than “I” in D&I—a “D”e-emphasis, one could say.
I came into the fellowship very interested in dissemination science, or how best to communicate and integrate knowledge and the associated evidence-based interventions (PAR-19-274). In this area, I have had the opportunity to support evaluations and enhancements of the Research-Tested Intervention Programs website and to evaluate cancer control practitioner decision-making related to adopting evidence-based interventions. In the more colloquial sense of “dissemination,” I’ve seen and contributed to newsletters, Twitter posts, webinars, blogs, and websites that all utilize data-informed formats and content.
Though not yet at its end, this fellowship experience has given me the opportunity to understand the field and support efforts to put knowledge into practice. I anticipate the months ahead will continue to expand my own knowledge and skills that I’ll put into practice for years to come.
Laurie Hursting, MA, is a former Cancer Research Training Award (CRTA) fellow with the Implementation Science team in the Office of the Director in the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the National Cancer Institute.