Nurses, midwives & allied health professionals in research
Key messages to those who work with or employ nurses, midwives and AHPs in research
Many of the nurses, midwives and allied health professionals (NMAHPs) in research* who we spoke to praised the support of their employers, colleagues, funders, supervisors and mentors. However, some felt that there was room for improvement in certain areas. For example, a number of people felt there were misconceptions about their research delivery roles which they wanted to challenge, particularly among their clinical peers*. Some also highlighted structural challenges which they would like to see addressed, including contract insecurity and barriers to pursuing clinical-academic careers. Improvements in both of these areas would demonstrate recognition of the value of NMAHPs in research and their contributions to supporting evidence-based practice for patient benefit. The main messages people had were:
- Employers (as well as colleagues) should continue to integrate research activity in healthcare environments
Some people suggested that employing organisations could do more to foster a sense of integration and belonging for NMAHPs in research – including in practical ways such as providing research NMAHPs with suitable office/desk spaces and locations in which to see study participants. A few people mentioned expectations that research NMAHPs could and would cover for non-research clinical staff shortages, particularly around ‘winter crises’. Whilst many were sympathetic to the situation, they highlighted that the time spent doing this was extracted from (or undertaken on top of) the time they had available for research activities.
- Study centres and teams should share findings with research NMAHPs (and patients), ideally in a more timely manner
For some, there was a sense that research NMAHPs were often ‘forgotten about’ once a study had closed. Sandra was pro-active about contacting study centres every few months to ask for an update, and felt that findings “should be [available] quicker now with the internet, it should be easier to get these things out there”. A few people in research delivery roles thought it would be good if other members of their research teams encouraged and supported them with involvement in additional research activities, including contributing to publications.
- The research documentation provided by study centres and/or required by Research & Design/ethics committees must be fit for purpose
A few people had messages about research governance and felt that there was room for improvement. For example, Sarah thought research documents could be streamlined.
- Employers and funders should work to reduce funding and contract-related barriers which affected research NMAHPs and NMAHP researchers
Those employed on short fixed-term research delivery contracts often found this off-putting. Some felt open-ended contracts should be offered, providing there is a reasonable likelihood of future funding for research NMAHPs becoming available. The way in which funding was allocated varied across the people we spoke to, but some felt that making the focus on recruitment numbers was a disservice to the other activities and overall quality of service that research NMAHPs provided – particularly patient support. Some people who had undertaken research through academic qualifications emphasised that there can be barriers to overcome, including issues around backfilling their roles.
- Employers and funders should be aware of and support the full range of NMAHPs interested in research as well as the full range of research roles
In particular, those who worked in an allied health profession emphasised that there can be an assumption that only nurses work in research delivery roles or are interested in pursuing research through formal academic qualifications. Libby, a physiotherapist by background, encouraged employers to be “more inclusive” when hiring for research delivery roles. Jed highlighted that art psychotherapists have a lot to offer in research, and encouraged funders as well as employers to be open to supporting the diverse methods, research designs and dissemination approaches of different health professions.
Some people who had undertaken research as part of an internship or qualification expressed concerns that these programmes were due to change. Jed thought that new candidates on his PhD fellowship programme would lose out on having a community of peers because the arrangements were due to be moved from being cohort based to individual awards. He also highlighted that, before a person can undertake this route, there needs to be willingness and the ability to backfill the job.
- Encouragement to pursue clinical-academic careers needs to be accompanied by available posts and appropriate support into these posts
Those who were in the process of completing a doctorate, or had already done so, often expressed concern about their next career steps. Many felt there was a lot of support in principle for joint clinical-academic jobs, but that the reality was different. As Gavin said, “These sorts of roles are promoted and encouraged but the jobs themselves don’t actually exist. It seems a bit perverse, you almost have to sort of engineer the thing yourself”. Making progress
Despite there being some barriers and challenges to address with their employers, funders and colleagues, many NMAHPs felt that there had been a lot of progress made in recent years. They encouraged work to continue in supporting NMAHPs to move into research (whether in research delivery roles or leading research) and in showcasing their contributions to evidence-based health care for patient benefit. Claire felt that, providing the value of the research NMAHP role can be demonstrated, the future “looks bright”.
*The people interviewed for this website were mostly research NMAHPs (i.e. those employed in a research delivery role). However, we also interviewed some NMAHP researchers (i.e. those leading research as independent researchers). The latter group included people who were undertaking or had completed academic research qualifications, such as PhDs, and many had previously been in (or continued to also be in) research delivery roles. For more information about the distinctions between these roles and the sample of NMAHPs interviewed for this project, please see the Introduction section.
*Many research NMAHPs and NMAHP researchers felt strongly that they continued to be clinical within their research roles. As such, the wording of ‘research’ NMAHPs/staff and ‘clinical’ NMAHPs/staff can be problematic for implying that research is not also clinical activity. Where the wording ‘clinical staff’ is used on the website, we mean for this refer to non-research clinical staff (i.e. those who are not currently employed to carry out research or enrolled to pursue research through an academic qualification).