Gemma Donovan

Here is a bit of background to my experiences of research and how I came to decide to embark on my EMULSION study journey.

So, I’ve been interested in research since my undergraduate pharmacy training at the University of Manchester. I think the first time research really captured my imagination was at a British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA) event which looked at personalised medicine and I was introduced to pharmacogenetics. I was fascinated by the inter-relationship between our DNA and medicines and this led to me doing a (pretty bad) literature review on pharmacogenomics as one of my undergraduate assignments. I also added a pharmacogenetic slant to my later (much better) undergraduate research project, which looked at computational modelling of enzymatic metabolism of drugs using cytochrome P450 2D6 (which is pharmacogenetically variable). As a pre-reg, I was introduced to practice based research and did a project which looked at a prospective risk analysis tool called Failure Modes Effects Analysis (FMEA) on the use of a monoclonal antibody to treat cancer. I was encouraged in my interest of research by my then pre-registration manager, and the bug has been there ever since.

Once I qualified as a pharmacist however, the opportunities to undertake research seemed to almost disappear. Yes, there was audit, but not really any research. I worked as a community pharmacist and hospital pharmacist when I first qualified, and after a while also went into primary care. Once I got into primary care there were slightly more opportunities, but most research initiatives were the reserve of those with more practice experience and there seemed little opportunity for a more junior member of staff to get involved. It also didn’t help that as I was working a part-time in multiple sectors, it was more difficult to embed myself into teams to make myself more available for these types of opportunities.

Following on from my diploma, I decided that a career that included research was something that I really wanted, and decided to complete my MSc. I approached several organisations to ask if there were projects they had an interest in completing, and in the end North of Tyne LPC suggested that some kind of evaluation of their recently launched Healthy Living Pharmacy (HLP) initiative would be something they would be very interested in. This however, meant completing a research project outside any of my employed work and therefore on top of full-time working. I used the advantage of working longer hours over less days in community pharmacies in supermarkets to free to up a day a week of project time, and for me this worked really well.

My HLP project was qualitative and this is a methodology that I’ve very much taken to and embraced. I think as a healthcare professional, we naturally care what people think and I personally am always really interested in hearing about peoples’ experiences and suggestions. I have to say though, that using face-to-face interviews as a data collection method is not as easy as it sounded when I set out, and teaching yourself qualitative research methods is really difficult. Part of what I would like to achieve in this blog is about championing qualitative research as a really interesting and valuable research methodology and trying to make it a bit more accessible to early career researchers who might be considering using it for their own projects. Certainly when it came to EMULSION, my experiences from my MSc project have been extremely valuable.

And so now on to EMULSION. The research question for the EMSULSION study was borne out of a request for me to update the unlicensed medicines guidance for Sunderland CCG, when I joined the Medicines Optimisation Team as part of my current role as an Academic Practitioner at the University of Sunderland. At that point, the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) guidance note on unlicensed medicines had been withdrawn and when going to the literature to inform the guideline update, I was shocked by the lack of research with which to inform my work.

When thinking about what I would have like to see in the literature, I realised that it would be extremely interesting to use the qualitative methodologies I’d used in my MSc to find out more about how unlicensed medicines are really used in practice, as opposed to all the rules, regulations and guidance that exists.  And hence EMULSION was born. As I’d worked in both primary care and secondary care, I was really keen to do the project across both sectors and really capture what was going on in a small area. I wanted to build on my introduction to qualitative research as part of my MSc and after some research and talking to Lyn, decided that using a grounded theory approach would really suit the area of research, and I was excited to try out a different type of qualitative research design. Although I’m building on my interview skills for the vast majority of the data collection for EMULSION, I’m also looking forward to using focus groups as a method of data collection later in the project, and also the way that we’re using them to test out the findings from the interview data. It will be really interesting to see how our respondents react to our analysis and their suggestions for future areas of exploration.

I hope that provides you with a bit of insight about me as chief investigator for the EMULSION study and would welcome any budding chief investigators to get in touch via the ‘Contact Us’ section and I hope that you find this blog an interesting and useful read as the study progresses.

If you’re really interested you can see a full breakdown of my career so far on my LinkedIn profile.

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