Facts + Insights

Why become a Peer Research Associate?

October 29, 2020
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The following post was submitted in French by Sylvain Beaudry, a Peer Research Associate in Quebec, and translated to English. 

The first time I heard the term, I thought it was still about finding HIV-positive people to use cheaply (read for free).

And then, I had my first experience as a Peer Research Associate (PRA) in 2013.  

A pan-Canadian community-based research project on a theme that was close to my heart. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I would be paid for the interviews and also for the training that came with it. It was far from what I had imagined.

The training was interesting and intense. I met some equally interesting people. I knew I was attracted to research, but this confirmed it. I was ready!

The PRAs team was mobilized, and we did a lot of interviews in a short period of time. It was not always easy. Belonging to the same community that I saw in the interviews was not all that advantageous. While I could certainly understand better what a person living with HIV was going through, it also brought some unpleasant feelings.

Sometimes the advantages become the disadvantages.

I remember one participant answering questions about emotional support, such as whether the participant had people they could count on to help with household chores if they couldn’t do them themselves, or to accompany them to the doctor when they weren’t feeling well, or just being hugged by someone else. The more questions I asked, the more dismayed he became that he was alone and isolated.

But there are also bursts of laughter, joyful memories that people gladly share. What a life!

In the space of an hour or two, PRAs receive stories of life, with its joys and sorrows, and I consider these moments a privilege. Another PRA in Quebec noted:

It’s easier to get participants to trust you about confidentiality when you’re a peer. Interviewees were more open. Some people told me that if I wasn’t a peer, they probably wouldn’t have participated in this research.

This underlines an essential quality for a PRA, confidentiality. What is shared in these interviews is solely between the PRA and the participant. It is important to maintain the bond of trust with the participants. As a PRA, we represent all research professionals, as well as the institutions involved.

Not everyone can or will become a PRA, but it is such a rewarding and unique experience.

Now, who wants to become a PRA? Go ahead, you will not regret it.

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