At our Full Council event in Glasgow in October 2018, Karen was one of the presenters at our workshop on student involvement in research. The workshop introduced the Council’s project on research in pre-registration curricula, which will be the focus of our research portfolio in 2019.
“Do you not enjoy nursing? Are you still a nurse?”
These are two questions I am often faced with when people discover that I am a nurse early in my career, who is continuing my development by undertaking a full-time PhD. It still startles me to think that because I have not taken the traditional route and gone straight into full-time practice, I am sometimes not perceived as a “proper nurse”. Do not get me wrong, I regularly receive very positive responses from people, but it still amazes me that by entering a clinical academic career, some people assume that I don’t enjoy nursing practice and being on the ‘front-line’ of patient care.
To provide some background, I graduated with a first-class honours degree and entered into a PhD two months later at the age of 21. My PhD is exploring ‘sexual expression in persons living with dementia in acute care settings’ and I am in my second year, full-time. Alongside my PhD, I work as a staff nurse in a nursing home at least once a month, where I contribute to clinical practice.
I find it bewildering to imagine that people think I have entered my chosen career path because I do not enjoy the clinical side of nursing. Therefore, what I want to discuss, and provide some clarity on, is why I (and possibly many others as well) have chosen to progress my career by undertaking a PhD.
Firstly, I want to emphasise that I have not chosen to do a PhD because I do not enjoy clinical practice or have fallen out of love with nursing. In fact, it is the exact opposite; it is simply because I love nursing. Ever since day one as a student nurse I knew I belonged to an outstanding profession and had the passion to strive to be the best nurse I had the potential to be. However, something as well as my passion encouraged me go into my PhD at an early stage in my career. Yes, having the determination and drive to contribute as much as possible to persons’ care was a huge factor, but there was something more.
My undergraduate academic experience was significant to me taking my ambition and key interests (sexuality in older persons and persons living with dementia), and moving into a clinical academic future. Encouragement, support and having freedom from mentors and supervisors was inevitably vital for my progression. I felt valued not only as a nurse, but also as an individual who had the potential to influence nursing practice. To have the encouragement from established leaders within nursing, who believed in my abilities, my clinical skills and research interests, was the difference between taking my career on the more traditional route and deciding to undertake my own unique research project within my PhD. I received that crucial nudge to take forward my original ideas and had the freedom to design a project to help me achieve a vision I cared about. Importantly, what lies under the freedom is a robust ‘safety net’ created by the support and guidance of my mentors and supervisors. My undergraduate experience opened my eyes to see a future full of possibilities that combined ‘hands-on’ nursing practice, research and education all in one exciting career. I was never asked to make a choice between various avenues of nursing; I was led to see that I could incorporate the different avenues into one dynamic pathway.
I do not see nursing as one-dimensional. I see nursing as an exciting mixture of avenues, with many unique roles and avenues to explore, which all has immense value and I would image any healthcare profession would be the same. My PhD is taking me places; down routes I never knew existed, and if it was not for immense encouragement, support and freedom I received during my undergraduate experience, alongside my passion for nursing, I would never have had the opportunity to explore and flourish towards a clinical academic career.
Guest blog by Karen Rennie RN, BSc (Hons)
PhD Candidate and Research Assistant
Centre for Person-centred Practice Research
Division of Nursing, School of Health Sciences
Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh