In the words of Barack Obama, “The future belongs to young people with an education and the imagination to create.” On many occasions, I’ve painted a picture in my head of the world I hope will exist in the future. Instant access to healthcare. Education for all. Equal opportunities for everyone. Some may say these are impossible, others will say they’re unachievable. At the end of the day, it’s down to people like you and I to prove that anything is possible.
Improving health through research
Healthcare has changed dramatically in recent years. Technology has played an influential role in these changes, particularly in the last decade. Technology has revolutionised all aspects of medicine – from diagnostic tools to new surgical techniques, and from electronic health records to social media which enables people with similar experiences to talk and learn from each other. In the United Kingdom, 2006 was a momentous year for healthcare as the Department of Health funded the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The aim of the NIHR is to lead the translation of research to benefit people in England through the National Health Service (NHS). The NIHR has funded many initiatives over the years, including GenerationR. GenerationR is the combined voice of several young people’s advisory groups (YPAGs) based around England, who meet regularly to learn about healthcare research while supporting the design and delivery of research across the country.
The benefit of involving young people in research
It makes complete sense to involve young people who will be directly affected by research and the outputs of research. Indeed, there are many benefits to involving young people in research. Introducing the perspectives of young people benefits the entire research and development process, as young people may be able to identify research issues that professional researchers are unaware of. Young people can also help to ensure that any research tools used are worded in a language that is easy to understand by young people who have no experience of research. Such tools can include leaflets, questionnaires, and reports. In addition, young people also benefit the research dissemination process. When young people present research findings and share personal experiences of living with health conditions, the key messages arising from research can have a much greater impact on multiple audiences.
It’s not all about benefiting research and society either. If young people are involved in research and are actively contributing to the research process, it’s only right that they get something out of it too. While young people can gain recognition for their involvement, sometimes in the form of payment, there are also altruistic reasons for getting involved in research. Enabling young people to be actively involved in issues affecting them, as well as contributing to their communities and the future care of other young people is hugely satisfying. Young people involved in research can also develop a variety of skills which will benefit their future careers, such as research skills, time management skills and communication skills. Many young people also find the experience positive, helping them to grow their confidence and self-esteem. Such opportunities can also enable young people to learn about research and services available to them, which can benefit their health and wellbeing.
What you can do to get involved in research
There are so many opportunities available for young people to get involved in research. The International Children’s Advisory Network (iCAN) has the unique position of bringing together YPAG chapters from around the world who are already working alongside researchers to address and improve healthcare research. Getting more involved in different research activities is incredibly easy. A simple email to iCAN and/or individual YPAG chapters to see how you could get involved in different activities is an easy way to see what is available, and facilitators of local YPAG chapters may be able to direct you to other groups who are looking for young people to involve in research. The most important thing that you can do is stand tall, be honest, share your opinions, and remember that you are an expert too!
Taken from a recently published blog I wrote for iCAN, the International Children’s Advisory Network.