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Clinical research nurses are at the forefront of life-saving cancer work

Three leading cancer experts explain why the role of the clinical research nurse is crucial and bridges the gap between science and patients

Three leading cancer experts explain why the role of the clinical research nurse is crucial and bridges the gap between science and patients

Abstract illustration depicts a woman with a magnifying glass and test tubes. In this article three leading cancer experts explain why the role of the clinical research nurse is crucial.
Picture: Alamy

As a bridge between science and patients, cancer research simply would not happen without clinical research nurses.

Over the past 40 years researchers have made incredible progress in ensuring more people survive cancer – survival has doubled thanks to research.

From trials to find out whether new treatments are safe and effective to testing new combinations of treatments, researchers are working hard to beat cancer.

And it is clinical research nurses who are at the forefront of this potentially life-saving work.

‘They are the bridge between the science and care of the patient’

It is hard to overestimate how important the clinical research nurse role is in ensuring trials run smoothly and successfully, and that patients are fully informed and safe.

Peter Johnson, professor of medical oncology at the University of Southampton and director of the Southampton Cancer Research UK Centre, says: ‘They are the bridge between the science of what we’re trying to do and the clinical care and experience of the patient.’

Professor Johnson explains that clinical research nurses are there for patients, even before any patients are enrolled onto a trial: ‘From the moment a trial starts, clinical research nurses are there for the patients. They help test trial protocols and know how best to answer questions in the clinic.’

‘We rely on their daily experience of working with cancer patients. They are the ones who have in-depth conversations with patients about the trial and what it involves.’

Once patients are enrolled on a trial, the clinical research nurses are there to support them throughout.

Jeff Evans, professor of translational cancer research and honorary consultant in medical oncology at the University of Glasgow, says the role is becoming evermore significant as the science develops: ‘Clinical research nurses have an increasing role in the frequent clinical assessments of patients and in administering treatments.’

A link between research and patients

‘They may take on additional, significant roles in supporting research and patient interventions, for example in supporting genetic studies and coordinating imaging investigations.’

People affected by cancer who decide to enrol on a clinical trial really rely on the support they receive from their clinical research nurse at what can be a very worrying time.

Nilima Parry-Jones, a consultant haematologist at Nevill Hall Hospital, managed by Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, says: ‘There is something very particular about the relationship between a patient and their clinical research nurse. Our trial patients like the support they get. They have rapid access to their research nurse and the nurses keep in close contact with them during and post treatment.’

Picture shows a woman who has had chemotherapy talking to a nurse. In this article three leading cancer experts explain why the role of the clinical research nurse is crucial.
Picture: Alamy

As well as being a link between research and patients, cancer research nurses are often also a bridge between research and other parts of the NHS.

Professor Evans adds: ‘They coordinate all the different departments involved in setting up and running trials, and can be working on multiple investigational studies in pioneering treatment areas.’

He says cancer research trials are ‘increasingly complex and bureaucratic’, as we learn more about cancer and as treatments become more complex.

It is often the research nurses who coordinate the essential day-to-day tasks, including preparing trial protocols, coordinating regulatory approval, carrying out randomisation of patients and collecting data.

The role requires a combination of communication, organisational and nursing skills, as Professor Johnson explains: ‘It is a rewarding job but it can also be challenging. For example, if research nurses are working on early phase one trials, they will be looking after very ill patients. They are highly professional and are a big part of the professionalism of research as a whole.’

Above all, clinical research nurses have a unique, tangible impact on the future of cancer care and research into new ways of fighting cancer would not happen without them, Professor Johnson summarises.

‘It is crucial that we continue to train people with these skills, help them develop their expertise and recognise how important they are in our work to drive scientific progress into clinical benefit, to increase the numbers of people surviving cancer in future.’

Are you a clinical research nurse? enter the RCNi Nurse Awards today

Cancer Research UK is supporting the Excellence in Cancer Research Nursing category at this year’s RCNi Nurse Awards.

This award recognises and celebrates the amazing contribution of clinical research nurses who deliver cancer research through patient-facing cancer clinical trials. It is open to all clinical research nurses who work on clinical trials in cancer and have demonstrated excellence through their delivery of high-quality cancer research to patients on clinical trials, improving their outcomes and experience.

Apply or nominate a colleague here


About the authors

Peter Johnson is professor of medical oncology and director of the Southampton Cancer Research UK Centre and national clinical director for cancer at NHS England and Improvement; Jeff Evans is professor of translational cancer research and honorary consultant in medical oncology at the University of Glasgow; and Nilima Parry-Jones is consultant haematologist at Nevill Hall Hospital, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board

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