EBB: Why did VA partner with SGIM to create a curriculum on partnered research?

DH/JW/DH: While most medical research has health improvement as the ultimate goal, the VA Office of Research, and the Health Services Research and Development (HSR&D) service in particular, has a commitment to fund research that will improve the quality of the healthcare it delivers to America’s military Veterans. VA leaders have recognized that even well studied healthcare innovations do not impact VA practice as quickly as they should. To speed the transition from research discovery to better healthcare, researchers seek to partner with organizations responsible for putting medical innovations into practice. However, differences in training, culture, and incentives make it challenging to form and nurture partnerships between researchers and health system leaders.

With this in mind, the director of the HSR&D service (David Atkins, MD) was looking to help researchers develop the skills to facilitate such partnerships. The VA–SGIM Partnered Research Curriculum is one such opportunity. The Curriculum gives researchers methodologic training in partnership formation and maintenance, using didactics, interactive small group sessions, and supervised steps toward developing partnerships they have identified as vital to moving their research into practice.

VA and SGIM have a long-standing relationship due to their shared values, including commitments to high-quality health care, learning health systems, and excellent healthcare delivery science. Many investigators who seek to conduct research that will improve clinical practice are members of SGIM and work in the VA healthcare system. Many of the people who first recognized that partnerships between researchers and health system leaders could facilitate translation of research into practice are members of SGIM and/or are VA employees. Their successful partnerships provide a model for other investigators to achieve similar success. Furthermore, SGIM has a long track record and continuing commitment to promoting leadership and academic development through programs such as TEACH (Teaching Educators Across the Continuum of Healthcare), LEAD (Leadership Development Program), and LEAHP (Leadership in Health Policy Program).1 Finally, VA’s emphasis on using research to guide practice change created a need for a training program in this area that SGIM was well positioned to develop and deliver.

EBB: What are the objectives of the curriculum on partnered research?

DH/JW/EB: The overall goal is to deliver a training program for early career stage investigators, or scientists who are new to partnered research, to pursue partnered research in a learning healthcare system. The curriculum addresses several key questions:

  • How can we better understand the needs and goals of stakeholders in a learning healthcare system, and how do they differ between investigators and clinical or operational stakeholders?
  • How can we continuously engage stakeholders during a study?
  • How do we balance the tension between sharing early study results and lessons learned with concerns about compromising study design?
  • How are research results best communicated to different stakeholders?
  • How can physician-investigators best advise leaders on policy issues?

EBB: What educational methods and content are included in the curriculum?

DH/JW/EB: The Partnered Research Curriculum consists of three main components:

  1. structured learning sessions;
  2. partnered research project activities; and
  3. assigned mentorship.

The structured learning sessions include seven 90-minute sessions over nine months. At each session, interactive lectures are delivered by implementation scientists and/or operational leaders. The final 30 minutes are dedicated to breakout sessions where participants meet in small groups or “pods” for networking, peer mentoring, and project feedback. Each participant develops an independent partnered research project through a series of steps or activities, including generation of a project brief, identification of potential operational partners, development of relationships with partners, analysis of the project through the partner’s viewpoint, operationalization of the project, and preparation of a description of the project tailored to meet the information needs of partners. Mentors from SGIM and VA meet monthly with participants, providing a sounding board for partnered project activities as well as career development guidance. In addition, the mentors facilitate connections with potential operational partners or relevant scientific leaders.

EBB: What did the first cohort of participants say in their evaluation of the curriculum?

DH/JW/EB: The participants and their mentors were enthusiastic about the program. Participants, even those who already had high quality mentorship, identified mentors as the most highly valued part of the curriculum. Participants uniformly identified the didactic topics as being valuable, although they suggested a few topics that could be added. Finally, the participants reported that the small group sessions were particularly valuable for networking, leading to suggestions for enhancing interactions beyond the group to which one was assigned.

As one person stated, “the soft skills of partnered research are part of a hidden curriculum that we tried to bring to the surface for our learners, including how to develop shared research agendas with potential operational partners and communicate one’s scientific ideas to non-research audiences. SGIM and VA are both organizations that consistently champion my professional values, and thus, the facilitation of new programming to support this organizational partnership in education, research, and service was very rewarding.”

EBB: What are the plans for continuing the curriculum?

DH/JW/EB: Building upon the feedback and experience of the inaugural cycle of the Partnered Research Curriculum, we plan to invite participation from a second round of scholars who are interested in developing skills in partnered research. New areas of focus in the next set of structured learning sessions will include how to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion principles into partnered research, as well as the role of health information technology in learning health systems. Based on feedback from the first participants, we will enhance the small group interactions by providing more guidance and moderators for the group sessions. We plan to build on the experience of the current group of mentors by inviting them back for the next year and by providing guidance to new mentors based on their experience. Since participants learned a great deal from one another as well, we hope to do more active facilitation of interactions among the participants. Although the pandemic led to an entirely virtual experience this past year, we expect that interactions among participants and between mentor-mentee dyads will be greatly facilitated by having in person introductions to the curriculum, the faculty, and other participants.


  1. Bass EB, Kutner JS. Q & A with SGIM’s CEO and President: Re-imagining the Development of Future Leaders. SGIM Forum. 2020; 43(8):4.



Health Policy & Advocacy, Hospital-based Medicine, Leadership, Administration, & Career Planning, Medical Education, Research, SGIM

Author Descriptions

Dr. Haggstrom (david.haggstrom@va.gov) and Dr. Whittle (jeffrey.whittle@va.gov) are the leaders of the SGIM-VA Partnered Research Curriculum, Ms. Baker (bakere@sgim.org) is SGIM’s Director of Project Management, and Dr. Bass (basse@sgim.org) is SGIM’s CEO.