Coordinating Research and Practice: Challenges Testing Messages to Increase Medical Reserve Corps Participation in Local Health Department Activities
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Local health departments (LHDs) increasingly depend on volunteers, often Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers, to assist with a variety of functions. While LHDs have extensive lists of volunteers, only about 10 % are actively involved in LHD activities. Psychological literature has shown that well-designed messages can motivate behavior among individuals. Key to this theory is the concept of “framing,” defined as the influence the characterization of an issue can have on its understanding. Research has been conducted on how to frame and disseminate both political and public health messages to alter individual behavior. We aimed to design and test appropriate evidence-based messages to increase volunteer participation rates in LHD flu clinics. After inviting over 900 MRC units to participate during the 2011–2012 influenza season, five were able to collect and report data to the research team. Using a randomized trial design, we tested messages among the five participating MRC units consisting of a total of 2,020 volunteers. Chi Square analysis showed no difference in attendance between those who received either of the test messages versus the control message (p = .305). Our small sample size of MRC units likely biased our sample and reduced the external validity of our study. Our experience in conducting research with MRC coordinators and volunteers highlights the challenges of conducting research with practitioners who lack the time, infrastructure and resources necessary to work with researchers. There is a strong need for more supportive infrastructure for conducting research with practitioners.
KeywordsMedical reserve corps Research and practice Volunteers Public health emergency
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