Career advice

Here’s why this is an exciting time to be a clinical research nurse

There is more guidance and support now for nurses who want to combine research with practice

There is more guidance and support now for nurses who want to combine research with practice

Rachel Taylor with a research participant. Picture: Barney Newman

Since the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) was established in 2006, networks of clinical research nurses (CRNs) have been employed to support the recruitment of patients to research.

This model has positioned the UK as a world leader in patient recruitment and helped improve outcomes for patients.

The CRN role has gradually evolved over the years. Advanced practice skills are often now required to address the growing number of regulations governing research in the NHS, as well as the complexity of trial designs and the advanced care delivery many current trials require.

The clinical skill sets of research nurses are under-recognised

More than 10,000 CRNs deliver thousands of research studies across the UK, but their skill set and role in clinical areas often goes unrecognised.

This is why the RCN Research Society is setting up a specific sub-committee that will explore and champion the professional issues of CRNs.

The Finch report advocated a flexible
approach to combining research with
clinical practice.

The sub-committee will be launched at the RCN International Nursing Research Conference, from 3 to 5 September at Sheffield Hallam University. The RCN Research Society is hosting a breakfast event on Thursday 5 September, where CRNs will have the opportunity to debate and discuss professional issues and set priorities for the sub-committee over the next 12 months.

The delivery of clinical trials and research is dependent on nurses and is something at which we excel. But what about nurses as leaders in research?

Structured career pathways for research leaders

In 2007, the Finch report drew attention to the lack of a structured career pathway for nurses who wanted to develop as research leaders, making recommendations on the education and training needs required for a research role.

One key recommendation was to allow ‘career flexibility, specifically the ease of combining research and clinical practice throughout a career, [which] must be enabled through the introduction of sessionally based contracts of employment that allow nurses to work as clinicians while also undertaking other roles as researchers and/or educators.’

Although no funding was initially provided to accompany this recommendation, Health Education England (HEE) has enabled the NIHR to run the Integrated Clinical Academic (ICA) programme.

This allows nurses to undertake master’s and PhD training while receiving their nursing salary. They then continue with their research in a post-doctoral role, remaining in practice to deliver care, with funding from HEE/NIHR allowing protected time to undertake research.

Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Sadly, as the ICA programme is not open only to nurses, we are competing against allied health professionals, pharmacists and health scientists, and our applications are just not as strong as those from these groups.

Consequently, nursing is under-represented in successful applications. The reason for this is unclear, but the NIHR recognised it as a concern in a strategic review of their training programmes. 

Rachel Taylor (right) in discussion with a clinical nurse specialist. Picture: Barney Newman

Leadership programme aims to increase visibility of research in practice

To help develop a more embedded research culture in clinical practice, the NIHR established the 70@70 Senior Nurse and Midwife Leaders in Research programme in April. 

This aims to champion research, innovate and drive improvements in future care, with 70 leaders in nursing and midwifery research seconded to increase the visibility of research in clinical practice.

This will increase clinical nurses' exposure to the nurses and midwives who are leading and delivering research, so there will more opportunity for them to see the potential for this as a career pathway.

NIHR associate director of nursing and 70@70 UK programme director Clare Meachin will host a breakfast event about the leadership programme at the RCN Research Conference, at 8am on Wednesday 4 September. 

We are now in the fortunate position to welcome nurses who may be interested in a career as a CRN but are ill-equipped or fearful of research. For these new recruits, there are more people to provide guidance and support to help them navigate the pathway so they can develop as researchers.

This is an exciting era for nursing and research and, more importantly, for patients. The more we can generate an evidence base for nursing and deliver care based on the best available evidence, the better the outcomes will be for our patients.

Rachel Taylor is director of the Centre for Nurse, Midwife and Allied Health Professional Led Research at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. She is 70@70 NIHR senior nurse research leader, member of the RCN Research Society and winner of the Cancer Research UK-sponsored Excellence in Cancer Research category at the 2019 RCNi Nurse Awards.



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