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Q&A with the winners of the Veterinary Evidence Student Awards 2020

7 December 2020

This year, three undergraduates became the first Veterinary Nursing students to place in the Veterinary Evidence Student Awards, which were launched by RCVS Knowledge last year to recognise and support students’ engagement with evidence-based veterinary medicine (EBVM) and its application into practice.

The winning Knowledge Summary was written by the trio of Carla Husband, Abbie McMillan and Lauren Sweeney, all studying at the University of Bristol. They highlighted the paucity of evidence regarding the impact of educational interventions on hand hygiene compliance in small animal environments, a highly relevant topic during the COVID-19 pandemic, and called for more research to be carried out to support hand hygiene compliance in the veterinary professions. Read the Knowledge Summary here. 

Student Award winners - Lauren Sweeney, Carla Husband and Abbie McMillan

Here, they share their thoughts and experience on the writing process, getting published, and ultimately adding to the evidence base, something which they would encourage everyone in veterinary education and the professions to do.

What drew you to apply to the competition?

Carla:  I had always wanted to contribute to the evidence base and knew I would like to try and publish my work. The thought of being able to potentially have my work published really drew me to entering the competition. I also wanted to represent not only the nursing profession, but the University of Bristol as well. Previous winners were veterinary students and I wanted to prove that veterinary nurses can contribute to the evidence as well.

Lauren:  I was drawn in by the potential of our Knowledge Summary actually ending up being published at the end. As a student, that seems like something that wouldn't be achievable until much later on in our career, so to have the potential for that as a student is very exciting.

Our course leader at the time was a massive advocate for veterinary nurses contributing to evidence-based veterinary medicine and she informed us about the competition and urged us to apply.

Abbie:  I felt that a lot of veterinary care and standards are not well researched and are based on opinions or theoretical ideas rather than a strong evidence base. I wanted to help improve the evidence base for practice and be a part of the community striving for improvement, even if it were only in a small subsection of veterinary medicine.

Your topic is on educational interventions on hand hygiene compliance. What made you want to appraise the evidence around this topic?

Carla:  Even before the COVID-19 pandemic I knew how important hand hygiene was, especially in our profession. Once we started doing the research and realised how little veterinary evidence there was, we were shocked. I am very driven to practise gold standard evidence-based medicine so I felt that it was important for us to focus on this topic. Hopefully, this Knowledge Summary can demonstrate to people how important it is to make a contribution to the evidence base.

Lauren:  What drew me most to the area was that the evidence is minimal and, therefore, the veterinary field relies on human evidence to create hand hygiene protocols. We thought it would be important to appraise the available veterinary evidence to assess the quality of experimental data, understand the gaps within the research and to decide whether further research needs to be conducted to ensure that evidence-based veterinary medicine is practised as a standard.

Abbie:  A large percentage of hand hygiene compliance research in veterinary medicine surrounds the quality of hand hygiene itself and often lists education as a major tool for improving this, with no supporting evidence. I felt it was important to look at the efficacy of education to see how valuable of a tool it is for hand hygiene compliance improvement.

What was the writing and publication process like?

Carla:  I was not expecting to find such a lack of evidence. It is so interesting to discover how much we rely on human medicine research to create our own policies. It is so important for veterinary research to be done so that we can create more specific and relevant protocols to our profession. We all became so passionate about the area as soon as we started our writing and research.

The most challenging part for me was making sure we weren't being biased. Even though there was such a lack of research we had to make sure we had a strong, unbiased evaluation of all the papers. However, I felt that we worked really well together and were able to create a really good piece of writing.

I loved sitting down with the other authors and discussing our main themes for the appraisal. When we would come up with a good point we would get really excited and then have to try and remember exactly how we said it because we forgot to write it down. I love seeing the finished product and knowing all our hard work has been recognised.

Lauren:  For me, the writing process went as expected. We spent lots of time writing this piece together, but we found it much more effective to do lots of smaller sessions more frequently rather than fewer, longer sessions. The only unexpected part for me was that I found it quite easy to get side-tracked and end up talking about lots of different aspects of veterinary medicine in the one Knowledge Summary, so we had to focus on narrowing our writing to a few key aspects that we could delve deeper into.  

For me, the most challenging part was picking apart the statistical analysis of the individual research papers; there are many statistical tests to get to grips with and this required lots of further reading and understanding before writing about the statistics. 

The most enjoyable aspect for me was writing the overall appraisal of all three papers. The appraisal allowed us to draw together all of the papers, whilst assessing how they had presented key themes and avoided biases like the Hawthorne effect. Appraising the three papers together allowed us to form a well-rounded assessment of the available veterinary evidence in the field of hand hygiene compliance.

Abbie:  I was not expecting a lot of the challenges that co-authoring a paper entailed; for example, scheduling work sessions, and sharing ideas and compromising. It was both my favourite and least favourite aspect. For one, it was excellent practice for co-authoring in the future; it taught me how to be more succinct and take criticism well and also how to be more gentle with introducing new ideas or providing feedback on the work of others. However, it was also difficult finding compromise without becoming frustrated, ensuring we all worked together to form one robust summary of evidence. Despite this, I enjoyed working with the other authors immensely and I couldn't be prouder of what we created together.

Was it your first experience of writing for a journal? Was it as you anticipated?

Carla:  I wasn't expecting the publication part of the process to be so easy. The advice from all the reviewers was so positive and helpful, we were able to make the necessary changes quickly.

Lauren:  Yes, this was my first experience of writing for a journal. I enjoyed having my work peer reviewed, as it meant that the end product was of a high standard and could actually contribute efficiently to the veterinary evidence base. The publishing process was actually easier than anticipated; the reviewers and editors were very helpful and allowed us to polish our work together as a group. We only had a few areas we needed to work on so the time it took to publish was much quicker than expected. This has inspired me to continue to try and add to the veterinary evidence base throughout my career.

Abbie:  This was my first experience writing for a journal. The process was not as daunting or difficult as I was expecting. I realised that anyone can improve the evidence base as long as they are passionate about it.

What would you tell other people who are interested in writing a Knowledge Summary/taking part in the competition next year?

Carla:  I would advise them to go for it! It is a really interesting experience and it allows you to get an idea of how the peer reviewers assess your work for publication. As a student, it is a really enjoyable feeling to know that your work will form part of the evidence available in a certain area.

Lauren:  This was a really positive first experience publishing my work, and it has inspired me to carry on, so I definitely advise anyone thinking of taking part in the competition that they should go for it!

Abbie:  I would tell them that contributing to evidence-based practice is incredibly rewarding and to stick with it. I am proud of our achievement and nurses should know that they can contribute just as well as veterinarians.

The 2021 competition

Enhance your academic and research skills by writing a Knowledge Summary and submitting it to Veterinary Evidence. By doing so, you can also be in with a chance to win one of three cash prizes! Find out about the competition and how to enter here - the deadline is 11th January 2021, so get writing!

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