The numbers of nurses, midwives and allied health professionals (NMAHPs) in research have been growing in recent years, as a result of a commitment to evidence-based health care. By carrying out high-quality research it is possible to answer important questions about health and health care, for example:
- Which treatments work best and for which patients?
- What outcomes matter to patients, their families and the health professionals caring for them?
Many current care options and treatment pathways are available to patients because of previous research carried out.
There remain many aspects of health care for which there is little or limited evidence and so studies are needed to develop this knowledge. NMAHPs in research are a core group of people helping to achieve this aim. The work of many NMAHPs in research is clinical in nature, involving patient support, carrying out various research activities and working with a variety of colleagues. The need to support and grow these research workforces over the next few years was recognised in two NIHR-produced strategies which were published whilst this Healthtalk.org study was being undertaken, one for research nurses, one for allied health professionals in research (see Resources).
There have been some important academic studies on NMAHPs in research in the UK, to find out more about their backgrounds and experiences, and promotional campaigns used to raise the profile of these roles. The Healthtalk.org resource and the underpinning study aimed to add to these activities by asking individual NMAHPs who do research from across the UK to share their experiences in interviews. Those who participated in the study covered all sorts of topics in their interviews, including how and why they first became involved in doing research, their experiences of different research activities, and the rewards as well as challenges that they have encountered.
Different research roles and the people we interviewed
The people we interviewed for the study were mostly research NMAHPs (i.e. those employed in a research delivery role). However, we also interviewed some NMAHP researchers (i.e. those leading their own research); this group included people who were undertaking or had completed academic research qualifications, such as PhDs. Some of the NMAHP researchers had previously worked in (or continued to also work in) research delivery roles. There is a lot of confusion about the differences between the two roles, which is complicated further by the varied use of titles. Our sample reflects the real-life ‘messiness’ of differentiating between these two roles and the various ways that NMAHPs themselves are unsure of the differences. Throughout the website, we sometimes speak specifically about one of these two roles; other times, where there were shared threads of experience, and we speak in more general terms about NMAHPs ‘in research’. This means that the sections on the website are primarily about the experiences of being in research delivery roles, but sometimes also expand to include the experiences of those leading their own research.
In total, 45 people took part with backgrounds as nurses (n.24), midwives (n.9), and allied health professionals (n.12 – physiotherapists (n.4), radiographers (n.2), speech and language therapists (n.2), a health visitor (n.1), a podiatrist (n.1), an art psychotherapist (n.1) and a paramedic (n.1)). The NMAHPs we spoke to varied in terms of their age, sex, ethnicity and duration of time they had been working in research (from four months to 30 years). They worked in different settings (including in primary care, teaching hospitals, district general hospitals, hospices, and care homes) and on many different topics or areas of clinical importance (including on intensive care, paediatrics, fertility and pregnancy, cancer, dermatology, stroke, diabetes, and end-of-life care). You can read more detailed biographies of the individuals who took part in this study by viewing the section of People’s Profiles.