Based on their own experiences of being in research, the nurses, midwives and allied health professionals (NMAHPs)* we spoke to had key messages for others who were either new to research roles or considering them in the future. These included roles both in research delivery and those in leading research, including through academic qualifications.
While there can be ‘boring’ bits in research, many people commented on the importance of recording accurate and complete data because these underpin research findings. Helen emphasised that the ‘paperwork is relevant paperwork’. At the core of messages was the value of health research and the role of NMAHPs within this. They saw themselves enabling evidence-based clinical practice, answering clinically-relevant research questions or problems, and having an important impact – ultimately for patient benefit. Many people said it was important to keep sight of the ‘bigger picture’ and they found their contribution to this deeply rewarding. Jed, Graham and Libby encouraged NMAHPs who were considering pursuing their own research via qualifications to focus on something they were passionate about.
The main messages people had were:
- It is possible to work in research as an NMAHP
Many people wanted to emphasise that research is a path open to NMAHPs, and that they can bring a lot to this activity. Christine wished she had known about research nursing earlier and encouraged others to ‘look outside the box’ beyond solely clinical jobs*. Likewise, in the context of physiotherapy, Nikki said, ‘Don’t let any preconceptions limit you’ and ‘don’t be confined by the traditions of a clinical career pathway’. Libby felt that research was ‘never really presented as an option for something you can do post-qualification [as a physiotherapist]’, and found it exciting to discover it was.
Often people emphasised that having quite a lot of direct patient care experience before moving into research was important. Others felt that NMAHPs at all levels could bring something valuable to the role, including newly qualified NMAHPs.
- If you are thinking about pursuing a research job and/or qualification, seek out information about what would be involved
In terms of research delivery roles, many people encouraged NMAHPs to shadow individuals and teams of research NMAHPs. This could help dispel misconceptions about the role and also manage expectations for those thinking of applying for a research job. Claire said she didn’t understand the difference between research nurses (delivering research) and nurse researchers (leading their own research) when she first started in research. Some people had experience of working with student NMAHPs on placement in research, or had themselves undertaken a research placement whilst training which sparked their interest in research posts.
Those who were undertaking, or had completed, research as part of an academic qualification often spoke about seeking advice and experiences from others at other stages of a clinical-academic career. This was a particular concern for many who felt that there simply weren’t these types of posts available to them (in their profession and/or geographical location), and so anticipated that they would have to ‘create’ a post for themselves.
- Working in research can sometimes be a major adjustment
The experience of starting in a research delivery post for the first time was often described as a ‘learning curve’ as NMAHPs adjusted to a new role. For some, it could be overwhelming and emotionally unsettling because it was different to what they had been used to. Paul recognised it could be tricky but that ‘you just have to accept that you’re starting again from scratch effectively’. Christine described this as going from ‘expert to novice’. Many people encouraged those new to research NMAHP roles to persist for at least a few months while they adjusted and to ask for support from those around them (including more experienced research NMAHPs). As Sugrah said, ‘If you don’t know, ask’. Once settled into a research delivery post, many of the people we spoke to felt it could be very rewarding. For Sian, the opportunity to continue learning and adjusting to new challenges was an enjoyable part of her role.
- Some characteristics of ‘good’ research NMAHPs and NMAHP researchers may come naturally, but other skills can be learnt
Many people emphasised that being organised was a crucial starting point, but that training and experience could build further skills needed. Some skills were seen as transferable from a person’s previous clinical experience and knowledge, but might also require some adjustments (e.g. around consent for research activities). Key aspects which research NMAHPs thought were important to have when carrying out their research delivery roles successfully included: listening and communication skills; being organised (especially with time management and juggling multiple priorities); and being an advocate for patients and their families. Sugrah thought that research nursing was a good arena to work in for people who pay attention to detail and are ‘rigid in how it’s got to be done properly’.
- Be a team player, but also able to work on your own
An ability to work well with others was an important skill, especially for research NMAHPs because there were many different individuals and groups that they had contact with and liaised between. As Claire said, at times this required ‘diplomacy’. Others highlighted the need to be flexible to fit around other clinical care activities and patients’ lives. At the same time as being skilled in teamwork, many people emphasised that being able to work independently was important in research too. For some, these dynamics could be an adjustment. Layla found it was ‘really nice just being trusted to organise yourself and organise your day, your schedule, and just get the work done’.
- Working in research can open up many career options
Research often opened up further career options, and this was talked about by both those currently in research delivery roles and those leading research. With backgrounds in research delivery, Nikki and Ellen were both about to start in new jobs which would involve managerial/leadership responsibilities for overseeing research nurse teams. However, a few people felt there was still scope for improvement in terms of career trajectories for NMAHPs in research. Laura X encouraged research midwives to be ‘pro-active’ about moving their careers forward when they felt ready to ‘move on’. Libby also said that career progression may require having to ‘pave your own way’.
Carlos’ key message for physiotherapists was that it is ‘possible’ and could be ‘really good’ to simultaneously have a research and clinical career: ‘people that like research – they don’t have to give up on their clinical skills or clinical jobs. I think it’s something that complements each other’. Karen also thought that joint clinical and research careers were important but could be challenging to achieve. Many people who were completing, or had completed, PhDs talked about clinical-academic posts. However, many felt that these posts were not yet readily available for NMAHPs and this underpinned a key message to employers and funders.
*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).