The motivations to move into research as a nurse, midwife or allied health professional (NMAHPs)* varied for the people we spoke to. In addition to talking about the value of NMAHPs to research, they often gave multiple reasons behind their individual decisions to take up a research role. These included factors which ‘pushed’ them away from their previous roles/posts and those which ‘pulled’ them into research.
Although many people were solely employed in research roles (e.g. in research delivery or leading research), some continued to have non-research clinical jobs too*. This was balanced through splits within their job, by combining two separate posts, or bank shifts. Continuing with a mix of research and clinical work was really important for some, although it could be a challenge to get the balance ‘right’. Sometimes the combination was seen as necessary because of the employment arrangements of their research post, including fixed-term contracts and part-time hours.
Wanting a ‘change’
Many were drawn to research roles in search of a ‘change’, ‘challenge’, and something ‘new’ or ‘different’ to do. For some, this meant moving into a new speciality at the same time as adopting a new role. Others were keen to stay in (or return to) a clinical area they had worked in before but to try a different role and develop new skills.
In some cases, the change was about staying in their profession but redirecting their career. Instead of progressing into more senior clinical or managerial routes, research represented an alternative direction. This was important for Gavin, a podiatrist, who felt his specialism had quite a ‘flat structure career-wise’. For Katherine, pursuing research as a speech and language therapist felt necessary when she relocated to a small Trust in a rural area as ‘the [career] horizons had shrunk quite a lot’. Research careers were a route for some people to fulfil key ambitions. Osi remembered thinking that she wanted ‘to be the person actually writing those [clinical] guidelines as opposed to just the person that’s doing them’.
Others were drawn to research careers out of frustration with their previous careers. Some, like Paul, felt the climate of the NHS meant that they were unable to do their best for patients: ‘I was a little bit disheartened in nursing’. Abi felt constrained by tight time limits with patients in clinical practice, whereas her research jobs had provided more scope for using her professional skills.
Pressure and shift patterns in clinical work were a ‘push’ factor for many. Louise felt that, as she got older, the length of shifts and/or working nights became too much. Tabitha found ‘the clinical world extremely stressful and it was just too much to be honest’. In contrast, research roles usually meant moving away from shifts and did not usually include weekends or evenings. James and Nikki liked that their roles (in nursing and physiotherapy, respectively) provided flexible working.
Significant changes in people’s lives were also important factors. These included being diagnosed with an illness or injury, redundancy, having childcare arrangements to consider, and family bereavement. For Sugrah, Claire and Simona, the physical demands of clinical non-research work and the hours involved became too much. Ellen found a research nurse post after her ward was closed down with restructuring. Some sought research delivery roles to change their working hours for more flexibility, shorter shifts and/or within weekday daytimes (rather than work frequent weekends, nights and evenings)
Whilst research delivery roles were seen to have several beneficial working conditions, there were also downsides too – including short-term contracts and losing out of ‘unsociable hours’ pay. Although for some, a short-term contract was a motivating factor to initially try a research delivery role; Christine described it as a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’ and Paul felt positive that he could return to working on wards if he found the research job was not for him.
Views on research and research staff before they started
Some people had been interested in research for a long time. Julie and Rachel X recalled enjoying learning about research in their professional training, others had their interest sparked during a Master’s degree. Jed, Ginny and Alice all recalled knowing that they wanted to pursue research in some capacity in the future. For Gavin, it was a case of finding funding to support him doing so.
However, others had held negative attitudes about research and research staff which initially put them off working in the area. Often people suggested their dislike of research had been rooted in their experiences of education – including their professional training. Some were concerned that research roles would be too difficult or not suited to them; Sandra initially thought it sounded ‘complicated’ and Louise was hesitant about it being overly ‘academic’.
It could take a while to shed negative attitudes about research. Sian described having a ‘lightbulb moment’ when she realised how exciting health research could be. Some came to see that they could use the skills they had developed practising clinically in a new and productive way through research. Sarah enjoyed the patient contact as a midwife, but felt that being a research midwife would allow her to contribute in a more ‘strategic’ and ‘goal-oriented’ way.
Some people became interested in research delivery roles when they spoke to friends and colleagues already working in research. Often people felt that they had had little exposure to research before they took on these roles, so speaking to those with experience could be very informative. They had asked about the day-to-day aspects, and many were pleasantly surprised to learn how enjoyable research roles could be. A few people became interested in research when they cared for patients enrolled on studies.
Working in an environment that was welcoming and positive about research was motivating. Nicky was drawn to ‘being at the forefront’ of healthcare. In practical terms, it meant jobs were likely to be available. A research-active workplace also sent out a message that working in research was interesting and valued. When James started as a research nurse, research was still quite new to his Trust and this appealed to him as it ‘looked as though it was going somewhere and it was going to make a difference’.
Several people had been involved in relatively small research activities when they were working fully clinically, which gave them a ‘taste’ for more. Barbara had valued the opportunity to ‘dabble in research’. Rachel Y and Nikki talked about getting ‘the bug’. Graham took on more research opportunities after his secondment ended and whilst still working as a frontline paramedic; this became ‘an evolution of one thing which led to the other’. Although not the same activity, Dawn’s involvement in an audit kindled her interest in a research delivery role.
Finding research opportunities
People describe the many different routes into research jobs and/or qualification schemes. A few described having supportive managers or other types of mentors who guided them in this direction, or at least did not stop them from pursuing research interests. Helen and Dawn were ‘headhunted’ by clinician colleagues and encouraged to apply for research posts.
Many had seen advertisements for research delivery jobs in a casual or opportune way – in leaflets, online or health professional magazines. Christine felt that, in some ways, the job ‘found me’ rather than the other way around.research delivery roles as a career path in recent years.Some people had been actively seeking out research delivery job advertisements to apply for. This was the case for Laura Y who had been looking for two years. Libby quickly realised that she needed to be searching for research nurse jobs, as these roles in her discipline of physiotherapy were ‘few and far between’. Those who had actively searched for research NMAHP roles or routes had tended to do so quite recently, suggesting raised awareness of
Expectations and realities
Often people had had little exposure to research before they took on these roles, so they sometimes arrived with misconceptions. There was sometimes a mismatch between their expectations and the reality once they had started. Claire had not known about the difference between research nurse and nurse researcher roles when she took a job as the former, so she had expected there to be more opportunities for carrying out her own studies. Others had not known what to expect when they moved into research. Many NMAHPs said there had been a process of adapting to their research roles.
*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).