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Can a research nurse be both an academic and a clinical specialist?

Posted on by Kelly Gleason in Professional Development, Research

Have any of my fellow research nurse colleagues had the opportunity to look at the policy issued by the Department of Health in March of this year on developing clinical academic researchers from nursing, midwifery  and AHP’s?  If not, I recommend it to those research nurses and others who might (as I do) harbour an ambition to progress towards a clinical research career, alongside a clinical research nurse or specialist practitioner role. The policy is accessible, relatively brief and clearly sets out the vision of the Chief Nurse for England, Christine Beasley, for the research nurse profession(s) to continue to be equipped to directly influence clinical practice through engagement in research and innovation.

The medical profession has a long established clinical academic research career pathway, with training schemes reflecting level of experience and career stage; and subsequent career structures and job plans that facilitate a combined career as a clinician and researcher. The nursing, research nursing, and allied health professions are significantly behind in their ability to successfully secure training fellowships and subsequent joint hosted posts that can facilitate a continued clinical focus and base, while engaging  directly in health research in an academic institution for the benefit of patients.

This paper provides an eloquent and concise strategy to support the Government’s aim to improve people’s health outcomes and experiences by developing the best research professionals, including research nurses. It recognises the contribution nurses (including research nurses) and midwives make to the evidence base of health care currently and aims to capitalise on this, by providing a structure and national research training pathway that supports and encourages our profession(s) to consider this career trajectory.

The key points I have taken from this paper are:

  • ‘Developing the best clinical academics requires national oversight, strategic vision and political commitments, underpinned by focused local implementation’ (Pg 2). Given that the paper sets out the political and strategic focus, for me the important issue is how this will be facilitated at local hospital/university level. Whilst we have increasingly highly educated professionals (including research nurses), at degree, masters, and in a smaller proportion, doctorate level, joint job plans are few and far between nationally.  This is therefore an area where vision and drive will be required by chief nurse teams and associated senior nursing academics within local HEI’s to reassess current career pathways and facilitate opportunities for an integrated approach whereby continued clinical engagement at the coalface is maintained and in turn engenders research ideas and the necessary specialist expertise to undertake and deliver high quality research.” It focuses the researcher on the live clinical issues and ensures that research findings are translated into clinical practice”(Pg 8)
  • The strategy includes a national mentorship programme (Pg 5) as it is acknowledged that appropriate mentorship is a crucial element in supporting trainees (eg trainee research nurses) in their early academic career; and plans for the development of an internship programme to enable practitioners to gain some experience of working within a research environment, and develop their ability to secure formal research training.
  • It recognises the need to explore the synergy between some local existing programmes and this national programme, such that there is a consistent and joined up approach in delivering growth in capacity and capability of the research nursing, midwifery and APH clinical academic workforce (Pg 7)
  • A useful pathway diagram is included in the policy so that you can look at where you currently sit and the levels of academic training awards available, in a competence-based career framework (Pg 9-11)

This policy underpins the NIHR ‘Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship Programme (C-DRF) a national programme with an annual call for applicants. It has been re-launched in May this year following a hiatus during which the initial programme underwent review. The deadline for applicants this year is 16th August 2012.

My own experience in applying for an NIHR fellowship has demonstrated the importance of :

  1. Securing agreement with director of nursing/chief nurse of host institution
  2. Securing agreement with higher education institution to accept you as a candidate for MRES/PhD
  3. Ensuring the proposal is clinically relevant and has potential application in patients/public within 5 years of completion of the fellowship
  4. Ensuring HEI supervisors have relevant experience and track record with the subject area
  5. Selling yourself effectively is an important element
  6. Utilising the Research Design Service for the development of your proposal and research methodology is a valuable resource.
  7. Planning well in advance ( assume 9-12 months to develop a proposal )

All of the above does not guarantee success. Competition is very high, and my own application to the general NIHR DRF call this year did not succeed to shortlist but as the saying goes’ if you don’t try you will never succeed’

Perhaps other research nurses might be willing to share their experiences here, or thoughts on how the policy is received and/or implemented in their organisations.

Good luck!

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