My job

A gift for engaging all types of patients

WITH A commitment and passion that go above and beyond the normal realms of work duties, it is hard to believe clinical research nurse Sheila Morris simply ‘fell into’ her career.

Ms Morris, who is a research co-ordinator in the regional infectious diseases unit (RIDU) at Western General Hospital, NHS Lothian in Scotland, has a research career spanning 20 years, during which time she has worked on 150 studies, predominantly focusing on the development of treatments for HIV. She works on as many as 40 studies at any one time.

Raise awareness

Named winner of the Scottish Research Nurse and Co-ordinators Network (SRNCN) Clinical Research Nurse of the Year Award 2014, Ms Morris hopes such recognition for her work will prompt other nurses to consider nursing research as a career option.

‘The award will help to get research recognised as a valuable contribution by nurses and raise awareness of its purpose,’ she says. ‘Too many nurses think it is specialist and quite mysterious, but it is not at all.’

On receiving the award, the judges commended Ms Morris, particularly for

...

Ms Morris, who is a research co-ordinator in the regional infectious diseases unit (RIDU) at Western General Hospital, NHS Lothian in Scotland, has a research career spanning 20 years, during which time she has worked on 150 studies, predominantly focusing on the development of treatments for HIV. She works on as many as 40 studies at any one time.

Raise awareness

Named winner of the Scottish Research Nurse and Co-ordinators Network (SRNCN) Clinical Research Nurse of the Year Award 2014, Ms Morris hopes such recognition for her work will prompt other nurses to consider nursing research as a career option.

‘The award will help to get research recognised as a valuable contribution by nurses and raise awareness of its purpose,’ she says. ‘Too many nurses think it is specialist and quite mysterious, but it is not at all.’

On receiving the award, the judges commended Ms Morris, particularly for maintaining her commitment and enthusiasm despite research not being a recognised or well-supported career path when she first entered the field.

They added: ‘Research, and those who undertake it, are often labelled “elitist” but Sheila is noted to demonstrate an inclusive approach, ensuring that both participants and colleagues are given every opportunity to participate in, understand and appreciate the ongoing research with the RIDU.’

The people nominating her emphasised her skill in recruiting, retaining and educating patients from a population where engagement is known to be particularly difficult. She was recognised for being able to communicate with patients ‘from all walks of life’ and convey the risks and benefits of new treatments for them.

 

‘I know I am incredibly lucky because I love my job and have never had a day where I did not want to go to work’

During our conversation, I observe the sense of warmth Ms Morris exudes, along with the commitment she shows not only to her work but also to the difference she can make to patients’ lives. She tells me how patients travel far and wide across Scotland, and even from England, to take part in the unit’s clinical trials.

She has enjoyed building a good rapport with patients over the years, explaining that many of them are regular trial participants who have continually offered their time to the unit.

‘When patients come in we are so appreciative of their time and their contribution that we want to make it as smooth as possible and then get them back out the door. We do not want anybody to regret giving us their time.’

She reminisces fondly over the past 20 years, proud of her involvement in finding new treatments for patients. When she started working in research, there was only one drug but today there are 28, she explains. ‘People with HIV can now have a normal life expectancy as we have found more tolerable and effective medication,’ she says.

‘I feel so honoured because I can picture individual patients who have taken part in our trials and see the difference they have made to the development of treatments.

‘Sometimes patients take part in a trial knowing it will be of no benefit to them but that it will make a difference to the next generation and sometimes, for other patients, the care they have received has made such a difference to their lives that they want to give something back.’

Ms Morris explains that she ‘fell into’ nursing research around 20 years ago when she had her daughter and there was no other option for work that would fit in with family life, such as a job share or part-time work.

On announcing she was leaving her job, consultants offered her two consecutive six-month posts in the infectious diseases unit at the hospital, where she has remained ever since.

‘The drug trials have made a phenomenal difference to patients,’ she says. ‘HIV will hopefully be more manageable in the future. The disease still has enormous stigma but people’s perception of it and treatment are a million times better than they were.’

She is proud that the unit she works in has championed the importance of equal access to clinical trials, adding that the units’ consultants have challenged traditional misconceptions and ‘fought for equity of access and therefore managed to put many drug users on clinical trials’.

Ms Morris became a junior sister in HIV in 1984 when she qualified as a nurse, and then transferred to research work in 1993. She places great emphasis on lifelong learning, having completed her bachelor of science in nursing studies in 2004 and a post graduate certificate in clinical research in 2012. She also held the post of chair of the National HIV Nurses Association between 2007 and 2010, which she says she used as an opportunity to raise awareness of HIV and keep research at ‘the forefront of people’s minds’.

Now full time in her role, Ms Morris’s dedication and compassion challenge the assumption that the title ‘research nurse’ is an oxymoron and that research and care are mutually exclusive. As well as conducting research, a core part of Ms Morris’s role is to engage with the charge nurses in the clinics and on wards to implement successful treatments in practice.

‘I understand the practicalities around handling samples, packaging and changing therapies so we conduct a paper hand over with the clinic staff rather than wasting time leaving the wards to work out how to apply treatments. In fact, one of the most enjoyable parts of research has been seeing the move away from the research phase into the practical stage and seeing the difference it makes on the wards.’

Asked about her most memorable experience throughout her career, her response instantly turns to the difference made to patients’ lives and the improvements in their longevity.

‘There were treatments that bought them time until a new treatment became available, and because of that many patients are still alive today, still well and still having a good quality of life. But equally it was hard when there were people for whom it was just too late and they did not get that chance.’

She explains how, over the course of the 20 years, she has seen a sea change in HIV research. Initially the trials were about finding drugs to manage patients’ conditions, but now that a sufficient range of treatments are available to suit different needs, the trials focus on improving the management of side effects and long-term comorbidities.

‘There aren’t so many HIV clinical trials now so I have moved into hepatitis C,’ she says. ‘This is a great time to be involved in this area because the cure rates are phenomenal and the symptoms are getting much more manageable for patients.’

Structured pathway

Ms Morris is optimistic about the future of nursing research in Scotland, arguing that the career has a more structured pathway and is getting to be more inclusive for research nurses than it has previously. She says the integration of research nurses in the clinical trials teams is improving largely because of the SRNCN and its dedicated annual conference.

‘Many research nurses are isolated and work on their own, and many do not know research nurses in their own specialty or maybe not even know another research nurse. The network gives us an opportunity to ask questions and there are also forums where you can get together a few times a year. To me it feels pretty cohesive and I feel very connected.’

When I ask about her future plans she contentedly replies: ‘I know I am incredibly lucky because I love my job and have never had a day where I did not want to go to work. I am not very ambitious; I do not want to get to a more senior position because I do not want to lose my contact with patients. I accept that the area I work in changes phenomenally and I know my job will keep changing, but I want to be able to change with it because I can see the difference it makes to patients’ lives.’

Find out more

The Scottish Research Nurse and Co-ordinators Network is at www.srncn.scot.nhs.uk/Home.aspx

">http://www.srncn.scot.nhs.uk/Home.aspx">www.srncn.scot.nhs.uk/Home.aspx<...
Sixty-second interview

1. Who has been the most influential person in your career as a nurse and as a researcher?

Without a doubt professor Clifford Leen, the principal investigator I have worked with for many years. He has always emphasised the importance of equity in access to treatment. We have patients participate from far and wide, which gives them the opportunity to access new treatments.

2. What tips would you give someone new to nursing research?

If entering clinical research now, a good route would be through a Wellcome Trust facility; working as part of a team in a well-supported environment can give you the skills and knowledge to move on and work as a sole research nurse in a team.

3. What have been the greatest obstacles or challenges during your career?

Initially integrating clinical research so it is seen as a regular part of the multidisciplinary team rather than as an additional burden to regular practice. This has been helped by my role having responsibility to move developments in research into standards of care.

This approach enables staff to see the direct benefits of research within the department.

4. What does the future have in store for nursing research?

Clinical research is an asset for the NHS today as it not only means earlier access to treatments for patients, but an opportunity to save money from drug budgets and a means to generate income.

5. How do you ensure research remains a priority when resources come under pressure?

Make sure staff and managers know the indirect benefits of research as huge costs can be saved from drugs budgets and lab tests through treating people on clinical trials, and through preventing conditions from deteriorating further.

Want to read more?

Subscribe for unlimited access

Enjoy 1 month's access for £1 and get:

  • Full access to nursing standard.com and the Nursing Standard app
  • Monthly digital edition
  • RCNi Portfolio and interactive CPD quizzes
  • RCNi Learning with 200+ evidence-based modules
  • 10 articles a month from any other RCNi journal

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?