Research nurse and scholarships: Stepping out of my comfort zone.

Posted on by Kelly Gleason in Collaborative Network, Professional Development, Research

‘As a research nurse I need to widen my knowledge of research methods’, ‘I need to understand research studies better’, ‘I need to find a course’, ‘I want to be good at this’.

These were the first thoughts which went through my head two weeks after commencing my first research nurse post in 2010. I had moved from critical care bedside nursing into a critical care research nurse post at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and realised that I had entered a new world with a new language; I wanted to know more.

‘I do not have the ability to personally fund a post-graduate course’, ‘Who am I to think I could apply for a scholarship?’, ‘Do they even exist for a research nurse?’, ‘Am I clever enough?’, ‘What if I fail and let people down?’

I found a Post-Graduate Research Methods course at Kings College London which I felt covered the knowledge I was lacking as a research nurse. Knowing that I had no way of self-funding the course, the next task was to find out a way around this. After a simple google-search I came across The Florence Nightingale Foundation which awards scholarships to advance the study of nursing and to promote excellence in practice. I appeared to meet the criteria for the Research Scholarships so decided to investigate further. I was definitely eligible, but I was nobody, why would they interview me? A discussion with Dr Martin Stotz, Consultant Intensivist and Research Lead at St Marys Hospital Critical Care Unit, convinced me that it was worth putting in an application and wanted to support me; he did not understand why I was so apprehensive. Shortly after the closing date for Scholarship applications I received a letter inviting me to interview. My initial reaction to this was sheer delight, followed by immediately being terrified; these emotions alternated almost daily for the next month until the day of the interview…when I was more nervous than ever.

The interview panel included a number of highly qualified and inspirational individuals who asked me numerous questions including but not limited to why I was applying, what I’d done to find out about the Foundation, what benefit my course would have on patients as well as for me personally. I realised towards the end of the interview that I had begun to enjoy it and that the panel members genuinely wanted to help applicants regardless of whether we were successful in our bid for funding or not. I was given contact names of people who might be interested in what I was doing as a research nurse and Journal editors who might be interested in an article I was hoping to write before I left the building. I was extremely enthused, feeling as-though the panel had belief and interest in me, but having no idea whether I had been successful or not. A few weeks later came the letter which, once again, filled me with both excitement and trepidation – I had been successful and was awarded the full funding I needed to complete the Research Methods course at KCL. The course was tough but did exactly what I had hoped; I increased my research knowledge and understanding exponentially, and importantly, I passed!

I realised having passed this course as well as working full time as a research nurse, that I was capable of working to Masters level so began looking for an MSc. Course content was important to me therefore I spent almost 6 months looking at UK wide MSc courses and finally decided to apply for the MSc Nursing Studies Clinical Leadership in Practice (Distance Learning) with Oxford Brookes University.

The next task was- how on earth will I fund this?

Professor Elizabeth Robb, Chief Executive of the Florence Nightingale Foundation and all of the other individuals working with the Foundation had been extremely supportive and kind, and encouraged me to apply for another Scholarship which was exciting as I did not realise this was possible. I soon found however, that three modules did not meet their criteria so decided to investigate other funding streams. I applied to The Barbers Company for their Nursing Scholarship for funding of one module, and through the National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network for funding of the second and third modules. You may think that knowing I was successful in applying for a previous scholarship made this process perhaps easier or somehow more familiar; I can confirm that it was just as scary as the first time and the emotions I felt mirrored the original. However, the interview panels were keen to support the progression of nursing so whilst some of the questions were extremely taxing, the overall atmosphere was one of support and encouragement, leaving me once again feeling really enthused.

I am now finally in my third year ((big smiles)) and am undertaking a primary research project investigating Student Nurse Experience of Research on Clinical Placements for my dissertation. This has been fully funded through a second Florence Nightingale Foundation Scholarship. It was perhaps the scariest of all applications for a Scholarship as I felt more pressured than ever to perform well. I did not want to let anyone down from the Foundation who had supported me do fully since my first Scholarship in 2010 and knew that it at that time was my only option for funding. I should note that an unanticipated addition to the nerves was my older brother’s partner going into labour five minutes before my interview (I am now a proud Aunty to a little girl called Megan). I was more delighted than ever on this occasion to receive the letter a few weeks later informing that I had been successful as completing the MSc part time was over a maximum of three years…which for me was now!

Scholarships have given me far more than ‘just’ the funding; I have listed the impacts below:

  • Increased confidence both professionally as a research nurse and personally
  • Confidence to present at the Florence Nightingale Foundation Conference
  • Confidence to present at other international conferences
  • Promotion to new role following first FNF Scholarship
  • Publications in 3 professional journals
  • Ability to support others with encouragement to apply for scholarships
  • Increased teaching ability and skills as a research nurse
  • Scholarship colleagues have since become good friends
  • Ability to step outside of my comfort zone
  • The opportunity to carry the Florence Nightingale lamp to the alter of Westminster Abby in the 2012 Commemoration Service and BBC documentary interview

I am extremely proud to say that WHEN I hand in and pass my study in 2015, I will have completed my MSc entirely funded through Scholarships and charitable funding streams. I am very proud of this and am very grateful to The Florence Nightingale Foundation, The Barbers Company and the Clinical Research Network (James Paget University Hospital) for their financial support and their encouragement over the past three years. As a research nurse, I would encourage anyone and everyone to apply for Scholarships…they give you so much more than ‘just’ funding! If I can do it, so can you.


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