Nicky has worked as a research nurse for eight years. For the last five years, she has been the lead research nurse responsible for a team of staff. Her current role includes setting up and overseeing studies, including assessing feasibility.
Nicky has been a research nurse for eight years, with the last five years as a lead research nurse. Nicky specialises in diabetes trials but has also recently taken on metabolism and endocrine studies. Nicky was working as a district nurse when she first saw an advertisement for a diabetes research nurse post; although she didn’t know what to expect from the role, she liked the idea of it, thought it looked interesting. The post was part-time which suited her having young children, as she could work within school hours. However, because she had previously been working nights as a district nurse, school holidays presented a new challenge for childcare arrangements. Nicky was initially put off by moving from a permanent to short-term contract but felt confident that she could find a job in another part of nursing if needed.
When Nicky first started as a research nurse, she worked on two or three studies. She found research a confusing area to be in for the first couple of years. Although she had Good Clinical Practice training and a session on informed consent when she started her post, most of the learning had been on the job training; as a result, she always felt like there were bits of the jigsaw missing. After three years, Nicky was encouraged to apply for a lead research nurse position which had opened up. She felt reluctant at first because there were still pieces of the jigsaw that didn’t quite fit in, but took the role. Her confidence and expertise have grown with time. As lead research nurse, Nicky now sets up and oversees studies, including assessing feasibility of potential studies by taking many different factors into account. Nicky is keen to keep up patient contact but has to balance this with managerial responsibilities for the team she leads. Nicky’s team are currently involved in about 15 different studies, which can be a lot to keep on top of. Nicky would like to increase her hours as she finds that she often ends up checking emails or taking phone calls on her days off anyway.
Nicky likes the variety of her work and that no two days are ever the same. She thinks the variety also keeps your skills up cos you’re doing lots of different things. For example, she has had training in various clinical and lab skills required for data collection and management, because her team carries out these tasks themselves, including cannulation, centrifugation, and performing DEXA scans. Nicky and her team have access to a research unit with beds, equipment and storage space; their office spaces are located separately but nearby. Having this dedicated space for research makes life really easy for us when we see patients. She sometimes does home visits to include patients who could otherwise not have travelled to the research unit. There are times when Nicky misses being a clinical nurse, as she doesn’t feel needed by patients in the same way in research. However, she likes that her role means you’ve actually got time to spend with people, so you can treat people the way you would have liked to have treated them when you didn’t have the time [in a busy clinical role].
For Nicky, research is about helping move forward the care of patients: without research nurses and without research, then these patients are never going to get those opportunities. Nicky highlights organisational and communication skills as important for research nurses. Her key message to nurses interested in a research role is to speak to current research nurses, but she also suggests that they should have a certain amount of clinical experience first. This is because she thinks it is common for research nurses to lose some clinical skills in the role which makes going back to a clinical post difficult, and that this might be even harder for a nurse with only limited previous experience. Nicky also thinks that having well-established clinical experience can be helpful in research, for example, when recognising adverse events and deciding how to respond.
Nicky speaks about the career options and trajectories available to research nurses. She feels this is an area which is improving but that, in nursing in general, these tend to be managerial and involve less contact with patients. With this in mind, Nicky is not sure what her options are for career progression: it feels like everything would be a sideways move. Nicky is currently undertaking an MSc and is planning a small study for her dissertation. Nicky would eventually like for her research team to design and run their own studies.