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Sweet steps to an active nursing research program

Moore, Stacey S. RN, MPA; Singleton, Wendy W. ANP, APRN, MSN

doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000365026.48397.d3

Based on candy taste preferences, an innovative research project helps bring a hospital's research program up to Magnet standards.

Stacey S. Moore is an administrative supervisor and project coordinator and Wendy W. Singleton is an advanced practice nurse at Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge, La.

To help gain Magnet designation, our hospital used a light-hearted approach to generate enthusiasm for research projects.



FOR MANY NURSES, the word research is intimidating. To help our hospital achieve Magnet designation, considered the gold standard for professional nursing practice environments, we set out to make the research process fun and engaging. How? With candy!

In this article, we'll tell you how we used a taste test survey to gain recognition for our new nursing research council, educate nurses about the research process, and generate enthusiasm for original nursing research.

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Getting started

To assess our readiness to pursue Magnet recognition, we performed a gap analysis to determine where our organization stood in relation to Magnet standards and what areas were in need of development. We found that our organization, Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge, La., needed to focus on and strengthen our nursing research program. Consequently, we formed a team to work toward organizational growth in this area.

Initially, the team's goals were to determine what nursing research, if any, was currently underway; to discuss the educational needs of the staff related to nursing research; and to establish a committee to govern and oversee how our nursing research was performed and how research findings were used. A primary focus of the team was to encourage and cultivate ideas for research. The team evolved into the nursing research council, which remains active today.

Gaining the interest and enthusiasm of nurses for research projects was another goal. To this end, we planned an innovative and engaging research study for Nurses Week. We were inspired by a research study undertaken by another healthcare organization to engage their nurses in research. That study was based on a chocolate chip cookie preference project.1

Following much debate about what type of taste test to perform for the nursing staff, we chose to test nurses' preference for candy-coated milk chocolate candy versus a peanut version of the same candy. With the low-carbohydrate/high-protein diet craze on the minds of many, we hypothesized that preference for the peanut candy would reign supreme. So, candy in hand, we set out to help other nurses understand the research process in a unique way.

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Research design

If our candy study was to mirror a clinical study, we needed to draft and submit a research proposal for formal organizational approval. We submitted the research proposal for approval by the Research and Development Council and the Institutional Review Board (IRB). It was approved; the study was deemed exempt from full IRB review. Because no formal consent for participation was required, we developed an informational handout for participants. The handout was both informative and light-hearted. See Informing the participants.

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How we did it

After receiving permission to proceed, the research team sprang into action. The Magnet nurse champion team was instrumental in both the planning and the implementation of the project. Team members generated awareness by posting fliers and spreading the word among their nursing peers. In addition, they planned the dates, times, and locations for collecting data in their units during Nurses Week.

We also advertised our project in our organization's newsletter. As described in the original study by Hudson-Barr, the theme, "Get a Taste of Nursing Research," was used to invite nurses to participate.1 The primary investigators educated the champion team members on the data collection methods and the applicable information to share with participants. Each champion team member was responsible for tallying and forwarding the findings from her respective area to the primary investigators.

The results included total number of participants, candy preferences (total number who preferred milk chocolate candy and total number who preferred peanut candy), and dates and times of data collection. The process, outlined in the research proposal, was as follows:

  1. Data collectors planned and advertised data collection times and locations in their respective units. Researchers explained the purpose of the study to participants and provided them with the informational handout for review. Potential participants were screened for peanut and chocolate allergies. Data collectors used scripts to explain the purpose of the study and to notify participants about our newly formed nursing research council.
  2. One medicine cup containing three milk chocolate candies and one containing three peanut candies were dispensed to each participant.
  3. After tasting each of the candy choices, participants were asked to indicate their preference on a survey form and place the form in the box. No personally identifiable information was collected on the survey forms.
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What we found

Participation was voluntary. Participants included 628 staff members from various areas of the organization. See Comparing candy preference by unit for our results. As we hypothesized, peanut candies won! The data analysis revealed that 67% of participants preferred peanut candy and 33% preferred milk chocolate candy. The overwhelming preference for peanut candies was statistically significant. The research team was thrilled with the participation and the excitement generated by the study.

Not only did we get an outstanding response, but everyone involved seemed to enjoy participating. Each council representative disseminated the findings to her respective area, and we published our results in Small Talk, our employee newsletter that's distributed by e-mail and posted throughout the hospital. Participants were able to experience involvement with research, and data collectors learned about how a research team functions and how research is conducted.

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Where we are now

The organization achieved Magnet designation the following year and continues its journey in support of nursing excellence. Today, the active nursing research council is composed of staff RNs, advanced practice nurses, a nursing administration representative, an IRB member, the medical librarian, and a PhD faculty member from a local university. A master's-prepared advanced practice nurse chairs the council.

The council's philosophy and objectives focus on supporting nurses in the continuous efforts of improving the quality of patient care and fostering the spirit of clinical inquiry.

Each patient-care service area is represented on the council to facilitate awareness of nursing research activities for all nurses. The council developed The Nursing Research Manual and created an internal council Web page to serve as additional resources for nurses interested in research.

Our nurses have conducted nursing research studies and one pilot project and presented them at local, state, and national nursing conferences. Topics have included factors that influence the decision to breast-feed, pursuit of nursing leadership roles, infant pain, and various aspects of neonatal care. The council continues to strive toward broadening knowledge about nursing research and the impact it has on evidence-based nursing practice.

Our research project achieved our goal of getting our nurses interested in and enthusiastic about research. Both participants and research team members gained a general understanding of the research process, including preparation of a research proposal, collection of data, and analysis of results. They learned that research is challenging but achievable with the support and resources our organization provides.

Table. C

Table. C

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Informing the participants

What's the purpose? This study is being conducted to determine the candy preference of participants, as well as to increase staff knowledge and interest in the research process.

What's involved? Participants will be asked to taste both milk chocolate and peanut candies and mark their preference on a survey form.

What are the risks? Risks to participants may include the following: choking, weight gain of less than 1 ounce, dental caries, and the desire to consume more candy. We ask people who are allergic to chocolate or peanuts not to participate.

What are the benefits? Benefits of participation include the following: free candy, increased knowledge of the research process, and possible health benefits including mood elevation. Chocolate contains essential nutrients such as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, B1, C, D, and E. The chemicals in chocolate also affect levels of serotonin and endorphins, the body's mood-elevating chemicals.2

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1. Hudson-Barr D, Weeks SK, Watters C. Introducing the staff nurse to nursing research through the Great American Cookie Experiment. J Nurs Adm. 2002;32(9):440–443.
2. Hershey's Foods. Chocolate and your health: the basics. Allchocolate: for the love of chocolate .
© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.