My job

Publishing can inspire research

MICHAEL TRAYNOR is professor of nursing policy at Middlesex University. After studying English literature at the University of Cambridge, Professor Traynor’s nursing career started at the Cambridge and Huntingdon School of Nursing. His research interests are varied and include professional identity, managerialism, job satisfaction and bibliometrics. Professor Traynor has published and presented widely and is editor of the journal Health, an interdisciplinary journal for the social study of health, illness and medicine. He has recently been appointed as the next chair of the RCN scientific committee.

When and why did you develop an interest in research?

Sometime in 1981 I pretended to have an interest in nursing research.

Pretended…?

Yes. I was working as a volunteer in a hospital in Cambridge. It has since become a business school. I thought I would apply for nurse training and the charge nurse on the ward I was working on gave me some tips for the interview. He said: ‘If they ask you where you see yourself in the future, tell them management or research.’ They asked me so I replied: ‘Oh, management or research.’ My first research job was in South Australia where I was hired to write up the report of a qualitative study on parenting. I had worked as a nurse and health visitor before that and I remember thinking: ‘At last, a proper job’.

A ‘proper job …’?

As a nurse I always felt like

...

When and why did you develop an interest in research?

Sometime in 1981 I pretended to have an interest in nursing research.

Pretended…?

Yes. I was working as a volunteer in a hospital in Cambridge. It has since become a business school. I thought I would apply for nurse training and the charge nurse on the ward I was working on gave me some tips for the interview. He said: ‘If they ask you where you see yourself in the future, tell them management or research.’ They asked me so I replied: ‘Oh, management or research.’ My first research job was in South Australia where I was hired to write up the report of a qualitative study on parenting. I had worked as a nurse and health visitor before that and I remember thinking: ‘At last, a proper job’.

A ‘proper job …’?

As a nurse I always felt like just another pair of hands – totally interchangeable with any other nurse. As a researcher I knew I was wanted for my writing skills. The research unit was sceptical of health professionals and the way they always saw health problems in terms of their own professional group’s interests. When I returned to the UK and got a job at the Royal College of Nursing, I could not believe that so many people there assumed that the purpose of research was to show everyone how good nursing was.

Who would you say has been most influential in your career as a researcher?

A few people gave me breaks by employing me – Fran Baum in Australia and Barbara Wade and Anne Marie Rafferty in London. Intellectually, probably my PhD supervisor Jane Robinson was influential. I remember her saying, ‘this is your chance to spread your wings’. No one had ever said that before. She adopted a critical approach that I really valued.

You have published what you have called critical work on issues relating to nursing policy, nursing’s take up of evidence-based practice and managerialism. What do you think the current challenges are in research?

If you are talking about nurse researchers, the challenge is to do interesting and important research, to ask questions that people want the answers to, or at least join in with some kind of debate, to have a sense of building up knowledge. We need to remember that even small research projects can be informed by, and contribute to, important theoretical knowledge.

Which of your achievements has given you the most satisfaction?

I like to think I have contributed a sustained critical voice over the years. I view my work in terms of papers I get published rather than in grants or research units that I might have set up. Each paper takes months, if not years, of work, increasingly with collaborators. I am writing with a colleague in Denmark who is good at conversation analysis and is critical and with a Lacanian psychoanalyst from Melbourne, Australia. I most enjoy taking approaches from diverse places and applying them to nursing issues.

What research projects are you working on?

I have written a book called Nursing in Context which will be published in September. It takes a critical look at political and policy issues which I think are important for the profession. The challenge has been about conveying the findings of critical research in an accessible way to people who might not be that used to reading research, writing in a way that energises and challenges people and taking what it is to do a degree seriously.

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

Working in a multidisciplinary setting at Middlesex University, with psychologists and people involved in social policy, has brought home to me what an inadequate research grounding nurse education, including master’s work, can give to nurses. I would advise people from a nursing background to get out of the comfort zone and develop a thorough understanding of methods and a theoretical perspective from original sources.

Finally, what do you think the future has in store for nursing and nursing research?

Some people promote a particular understanding of clinically focused nursing research, looking at the effectiveness of the interventions that nurses are involved in or might lead. This type of work is being promoted and there are, at least in theory, opportunities and careers for people who want to take that route. However, I think nursing issues can be interrogated from all kinds of organisational and sociological perspectives. In the UK, I expect to see more highly trained, but fewer, nurses in the workforce, supervising a new army of assistants who are a fascinating group of people to talk to and study.

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