Research Nurse career interviews: 5 mins with Debbie Beirne, Nurse Consultant in Leeds
Where were you brought up?
Which subject did you like most at school?
What was your first job?
I did voluntary work on a care of the elderly ward at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust at weekends, talking to patients, general help with feeding and taking those who wished to go to a church service on site.
What was your first job in healthcare?
On leaving school I worked for the strategic health authority for a year as a clerical officer, recording childhood vaccinations, until I could take up my nursing place.
What was your first job in research?
I joined an established oncology research team as research nurse to run a portfolio of studies in renal cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. I loved both disease areas for their spread of patients, academic interest and great team of people to work with.
Why did you apply for that job?
I had several years experience in cancer care within the field of haematology, delivering treatments that had become standard of care through the research process, so I wanted to take a couple of steps back and understand what that process entailed, and help contribute to the evidence base underpinning cancer treatment.
What job do you do now?
I lead a team of research nurses and administrative staff that support the conduct and delivery of oncology research trials from Phase I/III, working closely with nhs and academic clinicians, scientists and other disciplines.
What do you most like about your job?
I am constantly learning and being stretched as a research nurse. I have had so many opportunities for professional development through research that I would not otherwise have experienced. Knowing I can make a small difference in terms of our overall contribution to research, and enabling my team to understand their vital contribution to providing patients with the opportunity to participate in research and provide excellent care, compassion and support is a real buzz for me. It can sound a little trite these days to say patients are at the heart of what we do, but I do truly feel this to be true.
What keeps you awake at night?
Lucky I sleep really well generally and have a lovely husband who is much more of a morning person than I, who brings me a cup of tea! However on the odd occasion work creeps into my thoughts it is usually around things I need to remember to do for a key deadline or concerns about retaining a stable level of funding to keep my staff in post.
What gets you up in the morning?
The work, because it matters to people (patients), and because I work with some very talented, clever people in a field that is constantly changing and evolving.
What might a typical day in your job look like?
Usually a mixture of managerial activities, meetings and performance activity reviews, staff support and development, mixed with developing research alongside academic colleagues, study feasibility reviews, patient pathways and care though our clinical research facility and involvement in patient and public engagement. I act as a resource to other research staff within the organisation so can receive requests for advice or guidance. Way too much email!
What is the one thing you feel is most understood about your job?
Recognition of the nursing and allied health professional’s vital contribution to healthcare research, and that clinical research is still seen by some as an adjunct to patient care at best, rather than a vital component of care in driving innovation and future treatment/management of illness and disease. Sorry that is two things.
What one thing would you change about healthcare research?
Streamline processes, taking a balanced approach to risk, so that research is not stifled, or viewed as too difficult to undertake.
What one piece of advice would you give someone starting their career in healthcare?
Be passionate, empathic, caring and questioning. Seize opportunities when they come along, you never know where it might take you.
If you had not worked in healthcare, what would you have done and why?
I love to read, so quite fancied myself with a book store and café combined.
What do you think the role of the research nurse will look like in 20 years time?
I hope that we will have stopped talking about the differences between clinical research nursing and nursing research and see both as integral components of some nursing roles. In 20 years time research will be seen as routine by healthcare staff and patients; all patients will be able to access relevant information electronically and put themselves forward for research opportunities whatever their condition. So research nurses will be spending the majority of their time providing counselling, information dissemination, specialist care and treatment delivery and initiating research ideas derived from their clinical practice; working in a multidisciplinary fashion to originate, develop and delivery research
Debbie Beirne is a Nurse Consultant and Assistant Director of Clinical Research in Leeds. She has supported and guided many nurses through their careers in research. Debbie brings grace and clarity to everything she does. Her insight into human nature along with her grounded and balanced approach make her an accessible leader and wonderful teacher. Debbie teaches on ‘Developing Yourself in Clinical Research’ where she shares her experience and wisdom with those wishing to develop their careers on the field of clinical research.
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