Would you be willing to participate?

As a university student, you may frequently receive e-mails from other students or faculty that invite you to participate in a survey or focus group or other type of research. While not all research topics may apply to you, it’s likely that you may be eligible to participate in many of these data-collection ventures – otherwise, you would not have received the e-mail.

Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that I have been guilty of deleting such requests when my schedule was hectic or I was too tired to think straight. Juggling full-time doctoral program assignments, part-time work obligations, two kids, and one house, I had more than enough to keep me busy. Now, having been on the participant recruiting side for the better part of one year, I regret not participating more often, because I fully understand the rich value associated with the data that is collected.

Today’s blog post is not just a call to get involved with research efforts for which you qualify as a participant but also to illustrate how that data might inform efforts that add to the existing body of knowledge on important topics and help design evidence-based methods to enact change.

As I progress in my research efforts as part of my Fulbright grant, I rely on willing contributors to share their opinions, beliefs, and practices. I assume that they will be forthcoming and honest, and I do my best to create a comfortable, trusting environment to listen to their stories.

The data that is collected is sometimes disturbing. Oddly, that may amplify its importance. Let me share an example: In order to examine the influences on breast cancer mortality in the European Union, I first had to establish a fairly clear understanding of how the healthcare systems work in the countries I am examining closely. Specifically, I am researching Ireland, which has the best breast cancer-related mortality outcomes, and Romania, which has the worst breast cancer-related mortality outcomes. Literature reviews provided some useful information, but data collected in the research process provided much more.

When I reached out to the Romanian people, for example, and asked them to talk with me about their experiences with the healthcare system in their country, they provided deeply personal, detailed accounts of what they had seen and heard:

My grandfather was a patient in the cardiology unit, where they have two patients in some of the beds.

That hospital is indeed an outbreak of infection! A man works an entire life, and in his old age he offers such inhumane conditions … Shame on them, the people who run this country seem to be getting worse!

My daughter is a physician and left to go work in Germany, because the healthcare system in Romania is broken and hopeless.

My dear friend had breast cancer. Three times, when she went to the hospital for her chemotherapy, they told her to go home because the machine wasn’t working.

Some Romanians shared photographs with me to illustrate the grave need for healthcare reform in a country that is struggling for a better life under a known corrupt government.

These pictures were sent to me this week by Telu, a man who lives in Barlad, a small, poor village in the Romanian countryside. We connected after pictures he shared on social media were picked up by the Romanian news organizations. I read the article in one of the Romanian newspapers, to which I have an online subscription, and clicked through in hopes of finding this man.

Success! I managed to connect with him via Facebook. I sent him a brief message using Facebook Messenger, not sure if he spoke English, Romanian, or both. His reply was brief: I’m sory no spik English!┬áTurning to Google for translation assistance, I began a 90-minute, heartfelt conversation with this man that crossed geographic, cultural and language barriers. Telu is so desperate for political change and healthcare reform that he granted me permission to share his experience and his photos.

As you can imagine, I was upset by his story and the photos he shared. On the flip side, I was grateful that I could collect evidence that supports my plea for improved healthcare conditions across Romania.

I could not have accomplished this work without the participants who volunteered to advance it. I will always be thankful that so many Irish and Romanian people got involved to shine a light on this issue. My hope is that they will see improved conditions and improved mortality rates as a result.

When you are invited to participate in future research efforts, please don’t delete or ignore the request because you’re busy. Please don’t dismiss participation if you’re not offered extra credit for a class. Please participate because it matters.


Featured photo credit: Pexels.com

Photo credits of hospitals in Timisoara and Barlad, Romania: Romania Insider, Telu Gorbanescu

Tricia Richards Thumbnail-Head Shot

Tricia Richards-Service is an adjunct faculty member of the Communication Arts Department at Marywood University and a doctoral candidate in health promotion. A 2017-2018 Fulbright-Schuman student research grantee, she is now in Europe, where she is conducting research on breast cancer in Ireland and Romania.


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