Career advice

How to build a career that combines clinical and research skills

Clinical academic nursing is relatively new but growing, with a career framework to match

Clinical academic nursing is relatively new but growing, with a career framework to match

Training, teaching and delivering research programmes are all part of clinical academic
nursing roles. Picture: Nathan Clarke

Research is the cornerstone of high-quality evidence-based nursing care, and it is well documented that NHS organisations that are research active demonstrate improved patient outcomes.

Over the past decade, there has been an increasing need to develop a more flexible nursing workforce. 

Now more than ever, nurses need to be able to appraise and implement research evidence, as well as design and deliver programmes of research to adapt to the changing demands of healthcare systems.  

Creativity and innovation

A clinical academic nurse is grounded in clinical practice, with research and innovation activities a core part of the role. They are also involved in other activities, such as teaching, and have strong transformational leadership qualities that drive changes in practice to improve patient outcomes.

Clinical academic careers and roles offer exciting opportunities for partnership working across institutions. Offering the opportunity to use clinical and academic skills in a variety of settings and contexts, they enable nurses to think differently and be creative and innovative.

‘Now more than ever, nurses need to be able to appraise and implement research evidence’

They also provide an opportunity to establish and promote evidence-based practice and innovation as a fundamental part of nursing, supporting the integration of services and the strategic aims of the NHS Long Term Plan.

Pathways developed

Nurses conducting research is not new – many nurses have local as well as national and international reach through their research. But in 2007, a report from the UK Clinical Research Collaboration’s committee for nurses highlighted the lack of a clinical academic careers framework in the profession.

Since then, considerable investment has been made in clinical academic careers and roles that enable nurses to use their patient insights to conduct translational research, which offers direct benefits for the quality of patient care.

Over the past ten years, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Health Education England (HEE) have funded the Integrated Clinical Academic (ICA) training pathway for nurses to gain training in research methods, from master's degree level to PhD and beyond.

This is not the only route, but it has made a substantial contribution to building communities of clinical academic nurses, as well as supporting NHS organisations to invest in building capacity in this area.

There have also been locally focused funding schemes, such as the Bronze, Silver and Gold bridging awards that have been developed in the East Midlands. These usually offer small amounts of funding to backfill roles so individuals can concentrate on developing clinical academic skills and knowledge.

The East Midlands Clinical Academic Practitioner Network has also given nurses the opportunity to communicate with other like-minded colleagues.

Relatively new, but growing

As well as encouraging nurses to apply for these opportunities at national and regional level, some trusts have introduced local initiatives. Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust has a successful track record in supporting clinical academic nurses and sees the role as fundamental to excellence in patient care and staff experience.

This success has been achieved by implementing opportunities across all levels in nursing and includes initiatives such as the Chief Nurse Excellence in Care Junior Fellowships.

Although relatively new, clinical academic careers and roles are gaining increasing interest as a tangible career pathway in nursing. There are many resources available to help individuals and organisations find out more about the opportunities available, including:

Louise Bramley is interim assistant director of nursing and institute clinical lead (research and innovation) at the Institute for Nursing and Midwifery Care Excellence, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. She will be presenting a seminar on clinical academic careers in nursing at the RCNi Nursing Careers and Jobs Fair in Birmingham on 12 March

Joanne Cooper is assistant director of nursing (research, innovation and professional regulation), Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

Joseph Manning is clinical associate professor in children, young people and families nursing, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

Further information

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