Clinical placements

Why clinical research can be a rewarding setting for your elective

Research is often overlooked by nursing students when choosing placements

Research is often overlooked by nursing students when choosing placements


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As part of our four-week elective placement in our second year of training, we had the opportunity to work with members of the University of Hertfordshire nursing research team and clinical research staff at East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust.

After undertaking a research-focused module at the beginning of our second year, we were keen to learn more about the practical elements of research and whether it could be a future career option for us.

We also wanted to learn more about how research relates to clinical practice, and how evidence can be used to inform and enhance our nursing practice.

Preparation for our placement

Before visiting the hospital, we spent time in university learning about research, including qualitative research and systematic reviewing. We undertook an online good clinical practice (GCP) module, Introduction to GCP in Secondary Care, which is a free e-learning package provided by the National Institute for Health Research. This gave us an insight into several areas, including informed consent and participant recruitment.

During the placement, we worked with research nurses at the hospital while they obtained informed consent from study participants and performed baseline screenings – such as taking blood and sputum samples – before the patients were randomised into the different arms of clinical trials.

This was an invaluable learning experience; it enabled us to develop our verbal and non-verbal communication skills and gain confidence when talking to patients.

Observing the consent process

One situation that stands out was a visit to the hospital-based recruitment centre, where we observed one of the research nurses gaining consent from participants for a study relating to irritable bowel diseases (IBD), primarily Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

An eligible patient, who had limited ability to communicate in English, visited the recruitment centre to sign the consent form. After the patient gave his permission for us to be present, we listened as the nurse outlined the aims and objectives of the IBD study and what the patient’s role would be.  

‘We were provided with many learning opportunities and I would highly recommend other students consider research for their elective’

When the nurse asked the patient if he had read and understood the participant information sheet, he said he had not as English was not his first language. He said he was willing to participate in the clinical trial based on what the nurse had told him, but she decided not to proceed with signing the consent form until an interpreter was available.

In line with best practice, the nurse wanted to be sure the patient fully understood what he was consenting to. Before signing the consent form, he needed to be aware of the risks and benefits of taking part in the research, the possible outcomes, and that his participation in the study was voluntary.

Ethical approval

Clinical trials involving patients require ethical approval. If the nurse had not gained informed consent from the patient, she would have been in breach of this as well as possibly breaching the Nursing and Midwifery Council code.

Participating in the study without giving informed consent could also have put the patient at risk. This highlighted the importance of checking patients’ understanding of information they received before giving consent for a clinical procedure or intervention.

‘Our understanding of the research process has also improved markedly’

Moving forward as nursing students and future nurses, we will strive to ensure that, whenever possible, our patients and their families are provided with full and relevant information that is appropriate to their individual needs.

Rich in learning opportunities

Many students may not consider research as an option when choosing their elective placement, but we were provided with many learning opportunities and I would highly recommend other students consider research for their elective.

As well as working with research nurses, doctors and PhD students – at university and the hospital – we took part in the retrieval of literature for a systematic review focusing on advance care planning for people with dementia. This enabled us to become more familiar with how evidence is used to inform care in this important area of practice.

Our understanding of the research process has also improved markedly, including gaining ethical approval, recruitment and randomisation into clinical trials, and data collection. Most importantly, we have seen first-hand how research impacts positively on patient care and treatments, improving the patient experience and the quality of patients’ lives.


Babatunde Elugbaju and Nyemah Elnenr are third-year adult nursing students at the University of Hertfordshire

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