USANEO Member Don Johnston and President, Megan Hammond had the privilege of attending a conference, dedicated to the data collectors working hard on the SCI Model Systems Grant. The Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Model Systems Grant is a federally funded grant awarded to only 14 sites around the United States. MetroHealth is one of these currently funded sites and Don and Megan are employed under the SCI Model Systems Grant. This conference is a prime opportunity to meet data collectors from the other sites and put a face to the names of people we have been and will work with in collaborative projects.
Both wheelchair users, Don and Megan flew to Birmingham, Alabama for this 2.5-day conference. As an experienced flyer, Megan was confident in the logistics of flying, but with two wheelchair users, anything could happen. Luckily, our trip progressed smoothly, with only one little bump in the road. Megan’s brakes shifted on her wheelchair during a flight, but an airline employee mechanic found allen wrenches and was able to repair her chair.
The first (half) day started in the afternoon for new data collectors. During this time, new data collectors introduced themselves with a little background about where they are “coming from.” Don learned that the first step to follow-up interviews is being extremely organized before trying to contact a participant. One skill that every data collector learned was how to keep the participant engaged during the interview and how to reduce bias in the collection process.
That evening, a group of us from the conference met at a Buffalo Wild Wings and had a wonderful dinner. We would be spending the next 2 days together learning, and getting to know a little bit about each other on a personal level made the conference so much more enjoyable.
On the first full day of the conference, we all gathered for different presentations and break-out sessions. We started the morning, of course, with an ice breaker Bingo game. We go around with a bingo card full of “things” we are looking for: did you read more than 10 books last year? Have you ever milked a cow? Do you drive a hybrid car? Are you a grandparent? “Things” like that.
After a welcome and introduction from our Director and Project Officer, we moved into our first presentation on identifying the cause and date of death. Sounds morbid, right? In reality, this is part of our job. We will come across research participants who have passed away since our last follow-up interview with them. But then we moved into our interview variables and had a lecture on four different variables before taking a lunch break.
Following lunch, we reviewed more variables from our interviews and addressed a section that many data collectors were having “issues” with. This helped to know how to respond to participants who struggle with this interview section. Having example responses in our toolkit will only help us build more rapport with each participant.
After reviewing a few more variables, we had our first breakout session. This breakout session provided an opportunity to ask specific questions related to predetermined topics to better understand. This session was hosted by experienced data collectors from different sites and is a great way to also bounce ideas off each other.
Day two started off with an “open mic session” where we had the opportunity to ask anything related to improving our follow-up rates. How do we best get in contact with our participants? Stories and case reports were shared and much was learned. We added a few more skills to our process.
We then moved into a presentation from a psychologist sharing tips, tricks, and best practices for interviewing someone in distress. This was followed by a wonderful presentation on diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s not the first time Megan has seen this presentation from the same speaker, but it’s always great to hear it again and uncover one more hidden layer.
The presentation before and right after lunch covered the rest of the variables in our interviews ensuring standardization across all sites. The rest of the afternoon was different breakout sessions, and Megan was honored to lead one of those discussions. She led the breakout session for new data collectors. There we spent time talking about their difficulties, ran through some scenarios, and answered any questions they had.
Having their travel strategy thought out, including seating, carry-ons, and wheelchair storage, Don and Megan were confident their air travel experience would be a success and they did make it home without any issues. Now the work begins as they share their notes with the other team members at Metrohealth to improve how we serve our community.