by Jennifer Smith RN Australia.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a research study. I had completed a survey and was then asked if I would like to participate in an interview as part of a qualitative study on self-care. The research was about exploring the topic of self-care in nurses who work in palliative care and whether this may relate to compassion for self and compassion for others.
I love participating and supporting other nurses, especially when it comes to research, so I jumped at the chance.
The qualitative approach to research, is less about figures and results and more about the experiences and themes of the participants, with a view to establishing a broader understanding of what a group of people’s experiences are on a particular subject. The numbers of participants in qualitative research are often much smaller than with quantitative research and whilst this allows for a richer, in-depth analysis to be performed, there are some factions in science that do not value this and who consider quantitative research superior. Both are valid ways of performing research and are suited to address different research questions and fields of study.
The questions asked were quite broad about how I self-care, how it affects how I am at work, the strategies I use, the things that get in the way of me self-caring and whether or not I had a ‘self-care plan’ and whether a plan is beneficial (this is something that is talked about a lot in palliative care circles). The questions were open so I could really discuss and explore how self-care supports me both personally and most definitely professionally.
What surprised me about being a participant was how profound the experience of being interviewed was.
It really felt like I was having a conversation with an old friend. Even though there were set questions, the flow of our conversation was a very natural one, where each question asked supported me to express more deeply, so that the researcher truly understood what was being said.
He would often repeat back things that I had said in his own words, to make sure he understood what I had said, thus expanding on what I had expressed, to which I was then able to add further depth.
I also got a real sense of his genuineness and care in exploring this topic by how open his questions were. He really wanted to get a thorough understanding from the interview and receive as much of my experiences as possible.
What was to be a 45 minute interview, turned into 90 minutes. We were both enjoying the conversation and connection so much. Who would have thought that being a research subject could be such fun!
What felt so exquisite about my involvement was that through being deeply heard and understood, I could feel the value in my own expression and that what I had to express was immensely important, not because it was better that anyone else’s, but because it was my expression and I am a part of the whole expression of nursing.
I could also feel that the researcher’s part was equally important, supporting me (and no doubt all of the other participants) along the way with dedication, dotting his I’s and crossing his T’s. His willingness to understand and confirm me and what I was sharing was deeply healing.
Reflecting on my own self-care in this way, with another was a powerful experience. As I spoke I was appreciating the level of changes that I had made in my own life, through self-care and how it had brought so much to my life. And it’s the super simple things like going to bed when my body is ready at the end of the day, often before 9pm; treating myself gently, giving myself plenty of time to organise myself for my day without having to rush or hurry. Basically everything came down to listening to what my body was communicating. The other powerful thing about this is what self-care has brought to my work and the patients and families in my care. I genuinely enjoy my work, more so than ever and I know what I bring to patients and their families is a reflection of the care that I have shown myself.
This experience got me wondering about research and why this type of research is not highly valued by some in the scientific community. There are obvious concerns about bias, but is that really all that is at play here? There is potential for bias in all research, and the key is to be aware of the biases and declare them. Even with the most ‘objective’ research, the observations are made by people, who are capable of making mistakes and actively or subconsciously bringing bias to their findings. These same scientists can look with scorn on so-called ‘subjective’ research, in denial of the fact that all research has subjectivity at its heart.
Is there in reality any more bias with a relationship between people based on a true foundation of understanding and an intention to see the bigger picture? Is there potentially more bias when we see things from a limited and narrow view and therefore do not consider the whole picture? I feel there is.
Perhaps if we approached research from the healing opportunities (healing in the broadest meaning of the word), that are potentially available to both participants and researchers equally, rather than being driven for a result (whether it be finding a cure, getting a name or reputation or financial gain), research would be more meaningful to everyone in the community and may in fact lead us to developing a greater understanding of ourselves and each other.
And maybe if we were more open to the ‘subjective’ evidence of real people with real experiences, our research would deliver understandings that actually served us all.
- How true service begins with caring for self
- Self-care at work makes sense – why is it not common practice?