Developing research skills has given my career a boost
An inquisitive nature and a drive to succeed have taken Jacqueline Sin far
Jacqueline Sin combines her two decade-long mental health nursing career with research. This was sparked by finding herself unable to answer certain questions from patients and carers.
‘Research is a good way of answering questions,’ she says. ‘If there is no literature to tell you the best way forward, how can you evidence what you are doing?’
Ms Sin completed her master’s degree in 1997, and became a consultant nurse in 2002. She received funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to undertake a PhD while leading a project developing an online intervention for siblings of individuals affected by psychosis.
She is a good example of where a nurse can go with research skills. Now an NIHR post-doctoral research fellow at St George’s, University of London, Ms Sin is leading a five-year study expanding further online intervention for family carers, while working part-time clinically.
The NIHR support provides funding and mentorship, and pays for her work. Ms Sin has also helped eight other mental health nurses apply for NIHR funding.
Mental health research often receives less funding than physical health research. A 2015 report by the charity MQ: Transforming Mental Health said that £9.75 was invested per patient in mental illness research – 160 times less per patient than is spent on cancer research.
University of Exeter Medical School professor of mental health services research David Richards says: ‘Research is vital in all fields, and mental health nursing is no different. We should help patients by using the latest evidence for practice we can find. That is absent in a great deal of what we do.
‘Often the questions that need to be answered can be found in practice, so nurses are in a good position to ask those questions.’
Trinity College Dublin assistant professor in psychiatric nursing Michael Nash adds: ‘One factor that is increasingly problematic for researchers is ethics committees refusing permission by saying service users are too vulnerable to participate.
‘This means decisions are being made on behalf of service users who may want to be part of a project – reducing their voice and maintaining a stigma that because you are mentally ill, strangers know better.
‘Researchers need to have a strong ethical framework to show people outside the research that it will be safe for service users.’
Professor Dame Til Wykes, vice-dean of Psychology and Systems Sciences at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, urges nurses to consider a career in mental health research.
‘It is important that nurses are involved because they have a different view of the kind of research that needs to be carried out,’ she says, adding that concerns over ethical issues are unfounded.
‘The ethical processes are exactly the same as for any other disorder. Researchers need to provide information and discuss the project with the person, who needs to have capacity to agree to being part of the study.
‘Most research in mental health is not invasive, it’s talking to people about how they view services or taking part in a randomised trial. There aren’t many people without the capacity in mental health to take part in research’.
Clinical fellowships help nurses pursue research careers. Among those offering them are the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the Medical Research Council. The NIHR, working with Health Education England, offers fellowships to non-medical staff. There are five levels to provide a career pathway for aspiring clinical academics, from internship via masters and doctorates to lecturers’ posts. To find out more click here.