A guest blog by Natalie Elliott, Newly Registered Nurse and Honours Student
Nursing is my second career, my first was as a public sector accountant. I imagine this is where I developed a curious mind and a passion for improvement. I like to find the most effective and efficient way of doing things, not only to give the public value for money, but to ensure the service delivered is of high quality and the workforce is performing to its strengths.
When the concept of research was introduced to me as a first-year nursing student, it sparked something inside me that I didn’t know existed. I could see the value in good quality research and how that is correlated to person-centred, high-quality care for patients. I was able to link the benefits of a research-active workforce with an increased knowledge base to an inquisitive culture which does not accept the status quo and actively strives for improvement.
In one of my second-year placements, I learned that the role of Clinical Research Nurse (CRN) existed. I had no idea about the role and had presumed research was done by university staff at universities. My mentor at the time knew that I was passionate and enthusiastic about research, so she arranged a bespoke placement for me to spend the day with the CRN. I was able to see the human side of research and how the component parts of her role formed the journal articles we read at university. Speaking to participants with life-limiting illnesses, it was easy to see that they want to make the world a little brighter for others. They don’t want others to experience the same hardships that they do, this was different from any type of nursing I had experienced.
The embers of the research passion burned stronger and during the first wave of the pandemic, I was fortunate to be allocated a placement within a clinical research facility (CRF). One of the clinical trials we were organizing was for the Astra-Zeneca Covid-19 Vaccine. It was a real privilege to be involved in a little bit of history being made, and it further cemented my passion for research and showed me why we do research.
This placement gave me an appreciation for ethics and the ethical dilemmas that we face within healthcare. I was able to observe a research ethics committee meeting to help me understand the processes involved in approving a clinical trial to ensure its integrity, whilst safeguarding the participants. This has resulted in me volunteering on the Research Ethics Committee for my local NHS Board.
Having ‘hands on’ experience of research has allowed me to develop as a practitioner. I have been able to enhance my communication skills through creating a therapeutic relationship with participants, assessing when people may be feeling scared or anxious, particularly when receiving the vaccine. I was able to gain a greater understanding of the connection between the theoretical knowledge and the practical side of research through developing my observational and assessment skills. I got to follow the patients journey from their admission to hospital and the trajectory of their illness, whilst developing an understanding of blood tests and common medications. Another skill I learned about was lab work. It was great fun to don a lab coat and safety goggles for the day and spin blood! Research was fun!
Unfortunately, this opinion is not always shared by my nursing student colleagues. I often wonder if the way research modules are taught to pre-registration nursing students is relatable enough to cultivate their interest. The importance of research in nursing is a key component of the Nursing and Midwifery Code as it brings safe, innovative, and effective practice to patients and it is a nurse’s professional obligation to be able to critically assess and use the evidence that underpins practice. Therefore, it is imperative that pre-registration students’ perceptions of research are changed, and they feel confident and empowered about its significance. Perhaps more participatory, and practical, learning methods, such as involvement in clinical research placements or exposure to secondary research projects (not merely literature reviews), would foster a positive influence on students’ perceptions and engagement with research.
I’d say that it is clear experiential learning within research is beneficial for the development of a research interested and active workforce and as such we need to change the perceptions of healthcare students. We need to change the narrative that research is boring and difficult so that students understand its significance and feel empowered to use it. We need to show students that research isn’t about writing essays and doing literature reviews. We need to show them the practical side of research and we need to encourage them to use research whilst on placement.
We also need to provide them with opportunities- there is very little advice or promotion of roles available within research. If students don’t know about these opportunities, how will they know they exist? If nursing students were given the opportunity of participatory learning within clinical research, it would aid their understanding of the research process. To build the future of research nursing, this needs to start with pre-registration students understanding the role of the CRN and the value it brings.
The pandemic has certainly thrown the importance of research into the limelight, and it’s been fantastic to see the Council of Deans of Health actively promote research for undergraduate students. It was also wonderful to see my placement team at Glasgow CRF deservedly win “Student Placement of the Year: Hospital”, hopefully this momentum can build, particularly now that the Student Nursing Times Awards have added a new category for “Student of the Year: Clinical Research”.
For such a long time, I didn’t know where I belonged within the nursing profession, but through my research placement and having more opportunities to be involved in research, including being a member of the Scottish Research Nurse, Midwife and Coordinators’ Network (SRNCN), I’ve certainly found a place where I am excited to be a nurse and I will continue to advocate for nursing students to experience clinical research until it becomes embedded into their learning.