The excellence of care provided by the veterinary profession is underpinned by evidence-based practice, with high-quality clinical research leading to better outcomes for our patients and clients. We consistently strive to improve animals’ health and welfare – and this commitment should always be reflected in our research activities, from the lightbulb moment of our study to the dissemination of our findings. A well-designed and ethical study with rigorous data analysis will make a valuable contribution to the evidence base for veterinary science.
Having identified your research topic, perhaps after reading about a specific area of interest or being inspired by a clinical case, your first step is the formation of a good research question: one that is answerable and reasonably focused. You must also consider whether it has already been reliably answered by other researchers. Thoroughly searching and critically appraising veterinary literature is a vital step in understanding what has been studied about a topic to date. It enables the development of a question that furthers current knowledge and delivers clinically relevant and applicable findings. The EBVM Toolkit by RCVS Knowledge offers support in exploring a clinical question by locating and critically appraising the available evidence.
Having identified your research topic, perhaps after reading about a specific area of interest or being inspired by a clinical case, your first step is the formation of a good research question
Answering a research question requires a robust study design. Clinical studies undertaken in practice are commonly observational, such as cross-sectional studies, cohort studies, case-control studies and case reports, or interventional, such as randomised controlled clinical trials. The choice of study design is based on what will most appropriately answer the research question.
Constructing a detailed methodology is the crucial next step. Carefully consider the inclusion and exclusion criteria, the sample size required to achieve statistical significance and the patient recruitment feasibility. Research may involve veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses or pet owners, to seek their views on various aspects of veterinary practice. These considerations apply to retrospective and prospective studies. For clinical trials, randomisation and blinding should also be factored in. Guidance from a biostatistician can be invaluable in the planning stage of a study. Waltham Petcare Science Institute, for example, provides this support at Linnaeus. There are also free resources available online, including sample size calculators.
Clinical research needs to be conducted in compliance with the regulatory framework of the country in which the work is being undertaken and adhere to recognised ethical standards. In the UK, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) provides guidance to help the veterinary profession determine which studies can be conducted as part of clinical veterinary research (CVR) and when an ethical review is required (RCVS, 2023). CVR is when routine veterinary procedures are performed for the benefit of the patient, with the concurrent intention to generate new knowledge that helps to advance veterinary healthcare. Review and approval by an independent ethics review panel (ERP), like the RCVS ERP in the UK, ensures that the investigators have adhered to ethical and legal standards and followed research best practice, including a robust experimental design.
Clinical research needs to be conducted in compliance with the regulatory framework of the country in which the work is being undertaken and adhere to recognised ethical standards
Following data collection, most studies require statistical analysis. The analysis plan should include the identification of primary and secondary outcome measures, how missing data will be handled and the justification of statistical tests to be used. Again, it can be highly valuable to have support from a biostatistician at this stage.
When writing up and disseminating findings, note that reporting guidelines are widely available through sites like the Equator Network. They list the information required to ensure the authors provide a thorough account of what was done, their conclusions and how these apply to clinical practice.
It is advisable to select a target journal before drafting a manuscript, as their guidelines and formats vary. Peer-reviewed titles provide the strongest endorsement of your findings. Opt for open-access journals if possible, as these enable research to be disseminated more widely and support evidence-based veterinary practice.
Opt for open-access journals if possible, as these enable research to be disseminated more widely and support evidence-based veterinary practice
Involving others throughout the research process provides additional insight and guidance. Their different perspectives may challenge a study, but your research will become stronger as a result. There are many opportunities for collaboration across the veterinary profession – with your colleagues, peers in the UK and overseas, universities and industry.
When undertaking research, financial and practical support is also available through many organisations. At Linnaeus, the clinical research team provides advice on every step of the study process to ensure that our colleagues can realise the full potential of their work.
By designing an achievable and impactful study and taking advantage of the guidance available, your work could make a hugely positive difference to many lives.
|This article was first published in the Linnaeus clinical research report Sparking the Clinical Mind: How Collaboration Delivers Excellence in Research, which is free to download.