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Research Nurse Shadowing – Serendipity at Edinburgh University

Posted on by Kelly Gleason in Professional Development, Research

One of the reasons for my studying nursing was because of the many career opportunities that exist, such as going into management or becoming a nurse specialist. As I went through my degree and read the many, many, many (!) journals written by nurses about nursing practice, I became aware of another career avenue – research, and working as a research nurse.

As an undergraduate nursing student I have studied research, its methodologies and implementation into practice, and I have written a literature review. The more I studied about research and the more great nursing research projects I read, the more interested I became. How do people become research nurses? I asked my tutors and mentors in practice and found that there is not a well demarcated path to becoming a research nurse. The people I asked had gone into research either midway through, or in later stages of, their career.

Serendipitously, as I ended my third year as a student, Edinburgh University was starting a new Masters of Nursing in Clinical Research. This Masters degree was designed as a ‘fifth year’ of our degree (in Scotland our degrees are four years long) for students looking to start their career in research; see short video below:

Edinburgh University Masters of Nursing in Clinical Research

Before I decided to apply for the Masters I wanted to make sure that I knew what a research nurse actually did. I shadowed a research nurse in Critical Care who is concurrently studying for her PhD, who I will call “Sarah”.

During the time I spent with Sarah I observed and took part in her daily tasks and discussed the complex issues that arise in conducting research. Sarah’s daily tasks included looking through medical notes to recruit patients into studies, with the specified inclusion and exclusion criteria, and conducting the interventions. The interventions were both very clinical (including a bronchoalveolar lavage) and qualitative (including interviews of patients), and demonstrated the wide range of research projects Sarah was working on. The issues we discussed included the complex nature of gaining patient consent, especially when these patients are in acute stages or unconscious as they are in ICU. We also discussed the difficulties in trying to remain impartial when dealing with patients. For example, Sarah interviewed a patient who became upset and it was natural as a nurse to provide comfort and basic counselling. Sarah brought up the point that by doing so, she may have skewed the results because counselling and comfort were not part of the intervention.

From shadowing Sarah, I learnt that a research nurse undertakes a wide range of tasks and there is a lot of consideration that goes into performing these tasks in order to ensure that the research is carried out rigorously, but also in a way that protects and respects the patient. What struck me most about the job of a research nurse was the necessity for time management skills in order to coordinate the different research projects that were running at different stages. By the end of my time in ICU I found myself becoming very jealous of the research nurses working there – they have my perfect job! So I will be applying for the Masters in Clinical Research…fingers crossed!

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