My job

How to be a pioneer in your chosen field

CAROL HAIGH, professor of nursing at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Research Institute for Health and Social Change, has more than 30 years’ experience of working in healthcare settings.

She is a committee member of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, is an editor for the Journal of Clinical Nursing, was on the RCN Research Society’s committee for eight years, and maintains strong links with the wider clinical disciplines working on improvements in patient engagement and experience using social media.

When and why did you develop an interest in research?

It started when I was teaching manual handling. I was forthright about the importance of getting as close to patients as possible, which meant putting my feet on the bed at times.

One of the students, an infection control nurse, nearly had some kind of cardiac event. ‘You can’t put your feet on a patient’s bed!’ she said.

‘Who knows what’s been on the bottom of a nurse’s shoes?’

That question stayed with me, so I did a literature review – in the pre-Google Scholar days when

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She is a committee member of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, is an editor for the Journal of Clinical Nursing, was on the RCN Research Society’s committee for eight years, and maintains strong links with the wider clinical disciplines working on improvements in patient engagement and experience using social media.

When and why did you develop an interest in research?

It started when I was teaching manual handling. I was forthright about the importance of getting as close to patients as possible, which meant putting my feet on the bed at times.

One of the students, an infection control nurse, nearly had some kind of cardiac event. ‘You can’t put your feet on a patient’s bed!’ she said.

‘Who knows what’s been on the bottom of a nurse’s shoes?’

That question stayed with me, so I did a literature review – in the pre-Google Scholar days when a literature review meant actually spending hours in the library – and discovered that no one knew what was on nurses’ shoes because no one had ever asked.

So I spent the summer swabbing nurses’ shoes to find out.

That was my first experience of doing research and what made me carry on was the feeling I got – and still get today – when I first looked at my results and realised that I was the only person on the planet who had that information.

Who has been most influential in your career as a nurse and as a researcher?

I would have to say the ‘greats’ from the golden age of research: the RCN Study of Nursing Care projects of the 1970s and 1980s. Reading the work of Felicity Stockwell, Jack Hayward and others made me look at my clinical practice from a different angle.

Those works affected me as a clinical practitioner and inspired me as a researcher to look at fundamental issues in nursing.

You have published widely on issues that relate to pain management. What do you think the current research challenges are?

Although everyone agrees pain management should pay attention to the voice and experience of patients, the focus of the big research councils is still, primarily, on the biomedical responses to pain and pain management, and there is little interest in funding research from the patient’s perspective.

Of your published research, which do you think has been the most influential and why?

The study I was involved with on nursing altruism and honesty has been influential and I know the work has been replicated in other countries, which is flattering.

Pick who you work with carefully; make sure they are as committed to your research project as you are. People who do not produce work to deadlines add immeasurably to your stress levels

In one of my most highly cited papers I analysed the quality of the evidence taken from more than 2,500 references over 50 Wikipedia pages and concluded that they were of sufficiently sound quality to suggest that they were appropriate for use by nursing students. This did not make me popular with my teaching colleagues.

Which of your achievements has given you the most satisfaction?

Publishing a paper on chaos theory in nursing in 2002 that is still being cited today. And being sought out by Patricia Benner at a conference because she wanted to reassure me that her husband thought my shoes were fitting for a transvestite – not a prostitute as I had originally thought, but I still count it as a win.

What research projects are you working on at the moment?

I am developing a number of research bids around social media and digital technologies in nursing and health care – particularly looking at encouraging patients to use smartphone apps to record their health status and inform their subsequent primary and secondary care.

What tips would you give someone new to research in nursing?

Pick who you work with very carefully; make sure they are as committed to your project as you are. People who do not produce work to deadlines, or who do not feel the work is as important as you do, slow down a project and add immeasurably to your stress levels. Be ready for everything to take longer than you think.

What do you think the future has in store for nursing and nursing research?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to source funding for small or exploratory research projects and I fear that this may stifle nursing innovation and research.

However, many of the health-related disciplines are emerging from their silos and starting to work together, and I find that a good thing.

I hope nursing research will begin to contribute more to disciplines external to health care, such as gaming and smartphone app development, business and arts projects.

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