My job

Patients make the research we do relevant

Karen Turner talks about the journey from registration to her senior nurse post in the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit.

Karen Turner talks about the journey from registration to her senior nurse post in the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit.

What is your job?

I am a Cancer Research UK senior nurse at the University of Birmingham based in the Clinical Trials Unit (CRCTU). My role is divided between acting as the CRCTU lead nurse with professional responsibility for the clinical research nurses and working closely with Cancer Research UK locally and nationally.

As a part of the senior research nurse team, I promote the work of Cancer Research UK and raise awareness of cancer trials. An important element of the role is being a 'public face' for clinical trials in the region. I also support initiatives to improve recruitment to clinical trials for cancer treatments, prevention and palliative care.

The aim is to reduce the time taken to obtain results from cancer research projects.

Why did you become a nurse?

I wanted to do something that would be interesting and challenging. Becoming a nurse was the perfect fit for me as I am passionate about caring for others faced with difficult health challenges.

You started as a general nurse specialising in oncology and then moved into research. How did you progress through your career?

While training as a registered general nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, I developed an interest in oncology nursing. This led me to The Royal Marsden Hospital in London where I completed a BSc (Hons) in oncology nursing and became a junior sister on an oncology-haematology ward.

Shortly after, an opportunity arose in the haematology clinical research team. I was attracted to this speciality as I wanted to use all the knowledge I had developed throughout my career, but was looking for something more involved with improving treatments for cancer patients.

My first post as a clinical research nurse gave me a valuable foundation for learning all aspects of clinical trial management. I enjoyed the high levels of problem-solving required to ensure the smooth running of a clinical trial. My career as a clinical research nurse started in 1997 and it has been exciting to see how the specialty has progressed. Clinical research nursing is now a recognised specialty and has rapidly developed into a strong voice in nursing.

What have you learned in each role?

The power of the human spirit. People are so brave even when they are physically exhausted and it has been so inspiring to see how people support each other in times of need.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy the variety of my current role and the people I meet. From managing a team of early phase oncology and haematology research nurses, liaising with clinical trial management and laboratory science staff to working with Cancer Research UK – no two days are the same.

What lessons have you learned?

We are stronger as a team. It has been fascinating to see the rise of the patient voice within the design, management and dissemination of research findings. Patients, carers and members of the public help to make the research relevant and focused on patient benefit.

What are the challenges in the research role?

My research nursing career has always been in early-phase clinical trials. The patients approached to enter these trials will have been through standard treatment options and are at the point of supportive care. It never fails to amaze me how patients are willing to take part in these clinical trials when they have been through so much already.

What qualities do you think a cancer research nurse should possess?

Excellent communication skills to help patients understand the options presented. It can be challenging, particularly working in the early phase trials.

What advice would you give a newly qualified nurse in your field?

Build up your experience in your chosen area and learn from your patients and their families. A clinical research nurse is the practical element in making a trial come to life. The work is demanding but hugely rewarding.

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