Evidence-based practice and research are integral to clinical practice and central to the nursing philosophy at Texas Childrens Hospital, Houston. As a Magnet-recognized hospital, nurses at TCH are expected to use EBP in making patient-care decisions that are based on current scientific knowledge and research findings. But participating in research can be intimidating for staff nurses who view the process as too complex and often cite common barriers such as lack of time or lack of access to scientific literature as reasons for not actively engaging in clinical research.
The Research Scholars Programs research council and faculty spearheaded the Great American Cookie Experiment project in October as a method to provide research education and engage staff nurses in a fun, non-intimidating, hands-on research project. The experiment was first used by Clinton Thiel, RN, in 1987 to desensitize undergraduate nursing students to research phobia. As a research educator, he devised the teaching strategy to decrease nursing students fear by using the non-threatening research question, “Which cookie tastes better?”
Replicating the experiment at TCH allowed RSP members to practice conducting a research project. The year-long program, which meets weekly, is designed to teach basic research skills necessary to conduct clinical research.
More than 500 participants, including 300 staff nurses, were recruited to take part. Data was collected at the TCH Main Campus and at TCH West Campus by two-person teams, members of the RSP who were blinded to the composition of the cookies. Participants were asked to taste-test two physically identical, but nutritionally different, chocolate chip cookies and complete an evaluation form that rated the moistness, flavor and overall preference between the two cookie types. As expected, staff members were eager to taste test cookies and enthusiastic about finding out the results, which pointed to a preference for regular chocolate chip cookies.
The experiment provided a valuable opportunity for staff nurses to learn about research. “It was interesting to see research applied to such a fun project,” staff nurse Jenell Dancy, RN, MSN, said.
Marlene Walden, RN, PhD, NNP-BC, CCNS, who led the project, said the cookie experiment is as relevant today as it was when it was described as pedagogy over two decades ago. The RSP members said they felt that the project was successful in raising awareness and demystifying the research process. “Working on the GACE allowed me to expand my knowledge of the research process,” participant Geneva Shores, RNC, LRN, said. “There are so many steps to the start-up process that I felt overwhelmed. This experiment was a fun way to work out my fear.”
By promoting an environment that facilitates inquiry and critical thinking, RSP members said they hope staff nurses will be more open to engaging in research that ultimately allows them to improve their patients lives.