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Nurse-led project shows how rewarding a career in cancer research can be

Cancer Research UK senior nurse Ben Hood’s project ignites interest in cancer research role and boosts recruitment

Senior nurses project ignites interest in cancer research role and boosts recruitment

  • By dispelling myths about nurses in clinical research, Cancer Research UK senior nurse Ben Hood has built a bridge of understanding
  • His approach has had such an impact that it is being developed into an e-learning course to help recruit nurses to the specialism
  • His innovative project sees him named winner of the Excellence in Cancer Research Nursing category of the 2020 RCNi Nurse Awards

An innovative approach to addressing nationwide difficulties in recruiting nurses to clinical research posts at cancer centres is dispelling myths about the role as well as boosting interest in it.

Cancer Research UK senior nurse Ben Hood

Senior nurse’s project ignites interest in cancer research role and boosts recruitment

  • By dispelling myths about nurses in clinical research, Cancer Research UK senior nurse Ben Hood has built a ‘bridge of understanding’
  • His approach has had such an impact that it is being developed into an e-learning course to help recruit nurses to the specialism
  • His innovative project sees him named winner of the Excellence in Cancer Research Nursing category of the 2020 RCNi Nurse Awards

An innovative approach to addressing nationwide difficulties in recruiting nurses to clinical research posts at cancer centres is dispelling myths about the role as well as boosting interest in it.

Cancer Research UK senior nurse Ben Hood developed a presentation about the role of the clinical research nurse in cancer services before delivering it to nursing students in three universities.

It has had such a positive impact that it is being developed into an e-learning resource and influencing strategy at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Addressing recruitment challenges to help ensure cancer treatments continue to progress

For his efforts in ‘building this bridge of understanding’ Mr Hood has been named winner of the Cancer Research UK-sponsored Excellence in Cancer Research Nursing category of the 2020 RCNi Nurse Awards.

Ben Hood. Picture: Barney Newman

The judges were impressed by the project’s potential to address recruitment challenges and, as a result, help ensure cancer treatments continue to progress and improve patient survival rates.

Mr Hood, who works at the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre, part of Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, says: ‘I’ve found my career in research nursing in cancer services humbling and inspiring.

‘Research nurses play a pivotal part in clinical delivery and care management, and act as a patient advocate in an often complex and highly emotionally challenging patient journey.

What the judges said

Anne Croudass

Cancer Research UK lead research nurse Anne Croudass, a member of the Excellence in Cancer Research Nursing category of the 2020 RCNi Nurse Awards’ judging panel, says: ‘Ben is a worthy winner of this hotly contested category. Working with undergraduate students, Ben delivered an innovative programme to raise awareness of the essential role of clinical research nurses.

‘By promoting research nursing as an aspirational career choice, Ben’s project has the potential to positively impact on the clinical research workforce of the future, thus improving patient experience and outcomes.’

The Excellence in Cancer Research Nursing award is sponsored by Cancer Research UK

By removing preconceived ideas, research nursing posts are viewed as a viable career pathway

‘But this project highlighted that in many cases there was a lack of understanding and misconceptions of what a clinical research nurse does, which may be the biggest contributing factor on why it may not be seen as a tangible career option.

‘This project shows that by giving the future and current nursing workforce an insight into what the role entails and removing those preconceived ideas, research nursing posts are viewed as a viable career pathway rather than something nurses fall into.’

Changing perceptions of the clinical research nursing role

Picture: iStock

Results of a survey that obtained responses from 723 nursing students about Mr Hood’s presentations on clinical research nursing:

Before the lectures

  • 78.7% of students did not know what a research nurse's role was
  • 10% would consider a role as a research nurse on graduation

After the lectures

  • 99.7% of students knew what a research nurse's role was
  • 64.3% of students would consider a role as a research nurse on graduation

Mr Hood volunteered to start the project after discussing recruitment issues with colleagues on the steering group of the research nurses’ network the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres.

‘For most research posts we advertised we were often getting only one application,’ says Mr Hood.

He set up a focus group including second and third-year nursing students and registered nurses from non-research areas.

‘I wanted to find out what they knew about the role of a clinical research nurse in cancer services and the best way of delivering information sessions to address any misconceptions,’ says Mr Hood.

Students and current nurses felt they would lose their clinical skills and patient contact

‘The main issue was that students and current nurses thought clinical research nursing posts were a purely academic role.

‘They felt it would be all audit – that they would lose their clinical skills and the patient contact they got into nursing for. Some had not enjoyed research and dissertation writing in their degree.’

The participants said they wanted to hear from nurses currently working on early and late phase clinical trials to find out what the role entailed.

Nurse and student presentation describes a patient's journey from standard care to clinical trials

The resulting presentation describes a patient's journey from standard care to clinical trials and the important role the research nurse plays in the process.

‘The lecture highlighted that a nurse working in clinical trials uses an array of transferable skills and knowledge gained from their nurse training and in cancer research this is essentially a clinical role,’ says Mr Hood.

He included videos of cancer nurses in current clinical trials describing their roles and offering advice to students who are considering the role on graduation.

Clinical trial patients explained their journey and the role nurses played.

Building links with universities to deliver it proved challenging, so Mr Hood presented his idea to the nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare professional lead for his trust, who agreed to support the project and provide introductory emails to the associate dean of local universities.

Two universities – Teesside University and the University of Sunderland – took up his offer to make a presentation to nursing students and he delivered sessions to more than 1,000 students in 2018, followed by 1,000 more in 2019.

Boost to awareness of and interest in clinical research nursing

Working with a colleague in Edinburgh, he localised the presentation – including producing videos with local patients and research nurses – and delivered it to nursing students at Edinburgh Napier University.

The presentations boosted awareness of and interest in clinical research nursing, and when published in Cancer Nursing Practice caught the eye of NIHR Cancer Research Network North East and North Cumbria senior strategy manager Sharon Dorgan who helped Mr Hood take his next step – transferring the successful presentation into an e-learning module.

Mr Hood has seen a difference in recruitment at his trust too. Since the project started in 2017 there have been on average three students a year taking up placements at the cancer centre, where before there were none.

In the three years before the project started there were on average only two applicants for a post and in some cases just one. Since the project there has been an average of nine applicants for each role.

Award serves to highlight the work of the research nursing team

Mr Hood’s successful approach to improving nurses and nursing students’ understanding of research roles is being used to support a future NIHR national education strategy around the role of a clinical research nurse.

He says it was a ‘surprise and honour’ to learn he had been nominated.

‘Winning this award in such a tough category is an incredibly prestigious achievement for me and my department. It will highlight the amazing work of the research nursing team at the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre in Newcastle.’

Project could be adopted by universities and trusts to highlight role of research nurses in cancer

More importantly, he hopes his award will raise the profile of research nurse roles even further.

‘This project could easily be adopted by universities and hospital trusts across the UK to highlight the role of a research nurse in cancer.

‘Potentially this could have a positive effect on recruitment to research nurse posts in cancer care and ultimately continue the positive advances in cancer care and treatments, to which nurses are central.’

Transforming the nurse research project into an e-learning resource

An e-learning course demystifying the role of the clinical research nurse in cancer settings is being integrated into undergraduate nurse training courses in universities in north east England.

Ben Hood had been keen to create the module to build on the success of his presentations to more than 2,500 students, but the challenges had seemed insurmountable.

‘I didn’t have the coding skills or experience to produce this digital educational platform,’ he explains.

‘After researching further, it became clear that the cost of getting an established e-learning company to develop this platform was going to be very high and finding the funding was going to be problematic, if not impossible.’

The impressive impact of his project was noticed by North East and North Cumbria NIHR Clinical Research Network senior strategic manager Sharon Dorgan. ‘We were keen to hear more about Ben’s project as a result of a wider regional initiative to build the research capacity and capability of nurses, midwives and allied health professionals across the north east and north Cumbria,’ she says.

‘One of the elements of the strategy is around raising awareness of the importance of clinical research for junior staff, so Ben’s work was a great fit.’

She encouraged Mr Hood to apply for a grant to enlist the network’s learning technologist.

Mr Hood says: ‘The learning technologist was able to support me translating my educational work into a professional e-learning course that had the correct structure, visual aids, content and assessments.

‘Before the COVID-19 pandemic postponed everything, the learning technologist was going to lead on videoing and editing the video footage we are going to use in the course. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.’

Find out more

Cancer Research UK’s Excellence in Research Programme for Clinical Research Nurses is designed to support the continuing professional development of clinical research nurses working in cancer with education, best practice-sharing and networking opportunities


The Excellence in Cancer Research Nursing award is sponsored by Cancer Research UK

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