Career advice

Improving care through a clinical nurse researcher role

Oncology clinical trials nurse Julia Jonasi tells Ann Dix why she loves her job – and its importance to patient care. 

Oncology clinical trials nurse Julia Jonasi tells Ann Dix why she loves her job – and its importance to patient care

Oncology trials nurse Juliah Jonasi became a clinical nurse researcher five years ago, and hasn’t looked back. ‘I don’t think I would want to do anything else now,’ she says. 

Ms Jonasi left her home country of Zimbabwe in 2000. After gaining a diploma in adult nursing at Middlesex University in 2004, she worked in general surgery at Southend Hospital in Essex before moving into research at Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. 

She works with eight oncology trials nurses, and her role includes assessing patients' suitability for trials, recruiting patients and looking after them while they are taking part in the studies. She also arranges tests, collects trial data, carries out organisational and administrative tasks to ensure the trials run smoothly, and delivers some aspects of clinical care. 

In a typical week, Ms Jonasi spends about three days with patients and two days on admin work. As well as good clinical skills, communication is key. ‘To enable informed consent, you have to explain to patients the purpose of the trial, what their role would be and the potential risks and benefits,’ she says. 

Once patients have been recruited, ensuring they stay on the trial includes maintaining regular contact to check they are getting the support they need. It is also vital that patients feed back information for the study, including any adverse events. 

‘You get to know your patients very well,’ says Ms Jonasi. ‘Sometimes the need for follow-up data means you are with patients for as long as 10 years.’ 

The role also requires strong interpersonal and organisational skills. ‘You spend a lot of time capturing data or finding missing data, arranging shipping for tests and answering questions,’ says Ms Jonasi.  

It is also her job to ensure patients go into a trial with their eyes open. ‘Often patients say, “if it’s going to help someone else, I’ll do it”. Without these patients, we wouldn’t have the drugs we do,’ she says. 

‘In Zimbabwe, I saw what it’s like not to have the option of any medicines. A clinical trial can give someone the chance to try a medicine no one else can have. That is a huge benefit.’
Ms Jonasi says her role has given her a higher level of empathy and compassion, and the rewards are large. ‘When I see my patients do well, or when drugs get licensed as a result of the trial, I know we are really changing patient care.’ 

What you need to be a clinical nurse researcher:

•    Confidence  – a positive attitude and ability to deal with different departments without feeling intimidated.
•    Adaptability – you have to work with people with different ideas of how things should be done so you can’t be too rigid or set in your ways.
•    Be open to criticism – you will get audited and mistakes will be picked up. You need to be able to handle this. 
•    Knowledge – you need a sound understanding of the trial so patients can give informed consent.
•    Empathy – you need to put yourself in the patient's position and know what to say and how to say it. 

Ann Dix is a freelance journalist 

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