Building research partnerships with health care organizations: the Scholar Award Model in action.

Author:Aroian, Karen J.


Over a decade ago, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommended that researchers forge strategic alliances to meet the nation's future health needs in an era of flattened research budgets. The explicit message was the need to pool resources to "do more with less." (Ruffin, 1997). Regrettably, today's economy means that the recommendation to do more with less research dollars remains highly relevant. In the current era of limited funding, researchers need strategic alliances to launch or sustain programs of research to significantly impact the nation's health.

There is little guidance on how to forge strategic alliances to offset limited funding and advance health and health-related research. Much of the contemporary health literature about strategic alliances is heavily slanted toward clinical practice. For example, an online clearinghouse and toolkit developed by two leading Nursing organizations, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE), provide ample guidance for others seeking to establish successful academic-practice partnerships. (AACN-AONE Task Force, 2010). The discipline of medicine also has ample examples in the literature that provide guidance for partnerships to advance clinical practice. (Carney, Maltby, Mackin, & Maksym, 2011). When the topic is research, the health and health-related literature about partnerships with academia is limited to industry and the production of products, such as pharmaceuticals and technologies (see Granger et al., 2012 for exception). Although key elements for successful partnerships transcend academic discipline and type of alliance (Kanter, 1994; Wagner & Muller, 2009), there are some unique ways to market and implement research partnerships with health care organizations.

This article presents a collaborative model, the Scholar Award Model, and describes how it was applied to forge a strategic alliance between a College of Nursing in a research-intensive university and a large, regional health care system with 22 hospital campuses. First, the college research director's conceptualization of the Scholar Award Model will be described. Next, the marketing and three examples of the model in action at the particular health care system will be illustrated. The article provides direction for research directors in academic and healthcare organizations seeking to promote health and health related research in an era of limited research funding.

The Scholar Award Model

A college Director of Nursing Research (KA, the primary author) developed the Scholar Award Model to facilitate faculty scholarly productivity and progression with planned programs of research. The awards were conceptualized as seed money that would lead to a logical progression of subsequent studies. The idea was loosely based on the director's experience as a faculty member at a College of Nursing at a previous university that had a collaborative research arrangement with an affiliated academic medical center. Her plan was to develop a similar idea to foster affiliations between her present College of Nursing and a number of local healthcare organizations.

Scholar Awards are named monetary research awards, to be granted by a healthcare organization and awarded to an academic institution for faculty-initiated research studies at the healthcare organization. The Scholar Award Model is intended as a long-term relationship between a college and the healthcare organization, with recurring funds for new, yearly awards. Nonetheless, the healthcare organization is free to determine whether new calls for applications are issued in upcoming years.

Awards are named for the healthcare organization that grants the financial resources. For example, if the healthcare organization is Star Hospital (a fictive name), each faculty member who is the principal investigator (PI) of a funded study is a "Star Hospital Scholar."

Each faculty PI who receives a Scholar Award is a trained researcher and a subject matter expert who proposes a study based on critical gaps in knowledge about important problems. In order for the Scholar Award to be mutually beneficial to both the PI and the funder, the topic must be relevant to the faculty member's program of research as well as of interest to the healthcare organization. As will be explained below, marketing the Scholar Award Model to potential funders requires some understanding of their current circumstances and organizational goals. Also as will be explained below, ensuring that faculty goals are met requires equal attention.

The notion of using shared resources to achieve goals that are mutually beneficial to both the academic institution and the healthcare organization is at the heart of the Scholar Award Model. Shared resources include material as well as intellectual capital. Faculty members from the College of Nursing provide expertise with the subject matter as well as conceptualizing and conducting research. The College Research Office provides initial and ongoing consultation as needed, including consultation for research design and methods, data analysis, and disseminating study findings. The healthcare organization provides the funding and clinical site for the study as well as assistance with navigating through their organizational procedures. Although academic faculty are the PIs, that is they provide the primary intellectual contribution and oversee the management and scientific integrity of their respective study, professionals employed by the healthcare organization can be included as key personnel. Mutual benefit from sharing these resources includes prestige for both institutions as well as for the faculty members who are the study PIs. Study findings are expected to lead to subsequent collaborative studies with larger extra-mural funding and jointly authored publications in high impact journals.

The condition about fit between the healthcare organization's goals and faculty members' research programs is highly important. Healthcare organizations in the local area had been accustomed to commissioning studies of interest to them, namely quality assurance studies. The conceptualization and implementation of these studies had low potential for publication or subsequent funding from competitive extra-mural agencies that fund health and health-related research. (e.g., NIH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; RWJF). As a result, faculty time and effort on these kinds of studies was not well spent. In contrast, the Scholar Award Model was designed to put faculty in the driver's seat by having them propose studies that fit their research agenda.

To date, the College Research Director has marketed the model to four different healthcare organizations. Early in the marketing process, a Hospital Research Director at a local hospital embedded in a large health care system (PR, the second author) embraced the model and was...

To continue reading