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Experiences of oncology researchers in the Veterans Health Administration during the COVID-19 pandemic

Becker, Daniel J; Csehak, Kenneth; Barbaro, Alexander M; Roman, Stefanie D; Loeb, Stacy; Makarov, Danil V; Sherman, Scott; Lim, Sahnah
The Veterans Health Administration is chartered "to serve as the primary backup for any health care services needed…in the event of war or national emergency" according to a 1982 Congressional Act. This mission was invoked during the COVID-19 pandemic to divert clinical and research resources. We used an electronic mixed-methods questionnaire constructed using the Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF) and the Capability, Opportunity, and Motivation (COM-B) model for behavior change to study the effects of the pandemic on VHA researchers. The questionnaire was distributed electronically to 118 cancer researchers participating in national VHA collaborations. The questionnaire received 42 responses (36%). Only 36% did not feel that their research focus changed during the pandemic. Only 26% reported prior experience with infectious disease research, and 74% agreed that they gained new research skills. When asked to describe helpful support structures, 29% mentioned local supervisors, mentors, and research staff, 15% cited larger VHA organizations and 18% mentioned remote work. Lack of timely communication and remote work, particularly for individuals with caregiving responsibilities, were limiting factors. Fewer than half felt professionally rewarded for pursuing research related to COVID. This study demonstrated the tremendous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on research activities of VHA investigators. We identified perceptions of insufficient recognition and lack of professional advancement related to pandemic-era research, yet most reported gaining new research skills. Individualizing the structure of remote work and ensuring clear and timely team communication represent high yield areas for improvement.
PMID: 38266017
ISSN: 1932-6203
CID: 5624962