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Q&A: South London Lead Research Nurse Sittana Abdelmagid

As part of the NIHR’s Your Path in Research (YPIR) campaign, which aims to highlight how people can make research part of their career, we spoke to Lead Research Nurse Sittana Abdelmagid from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Sittana talks about the importance of research in addressing health inequalities, being a champion for her community, and the pride she feels in leading research projects.

Why did you become a research nurse?

I first developed a research interest when I had a student placement at the Sickle Cell and Thalassemia Centre. Through conversations with patients and families, I based my dissertation on a literature review on factors that influence the attitudes of healthcare professionals in the pain management of Sickle Cell Disease. I submitted my abstract to the Royal College of Nursing International Research Conference in 2015 to encourage reflection within the profession.

After qualifying, I attended the annual Imperial College Festival and spoke to a team researching complications of IVF treatment. This experience was relevant to the patients I looked after on the gynaecology ward as a staff nurse, and it made me curious to learn more about the link between research and clinical practice.

I love the fast-paced nature of the job as it appeals to my love of learning and science. Working as a research nurse has exposed me to a wide range of specialties and the clinical skills needed to support patients through their treatment as part of a research trial. No two clinical trials are the same, so I’m always learning something new.

What are you passionate about as a nurse?

Before I became a nurse, I worked as a project officer and outreach worker in a charity supporting vulnerable young adults to gain qualifications and access apprenticeships. When one of my colleagues left to retrain as a mental health nurse, I became curious about a career in nursing. Nurses deliver care in a wide variety of settings in the community, which aligned with my interests, so I decided to pursue a career in nursing.

Over the years, nursing has allowed me to constantly align my ever-growing and evolving passions and interests with my career, which is incredibly rewarding. I have been fortunate to work in critical care, a community rehabilitation ward, surgical wards, medical wards and various specialist outpatient departments.

How does research improve patient care?

Research is how we develop new treatments and knowledge for better health and care; it also allows us to understand specific conditions. Research is also the precursor to evidence-based care, allowing us to build evidence for new approaches that are safe and effective.

Researchers need to do more to include specific demographics and communities in research because exclusion leads to widening health inequalities. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that when we are developing research, we understand and deliver outcomes that address the needs of patient groups with the worst health outcomes for the overall benefit of everyone in society.

What would be your message to non-research active colleagues about why they should consider a career in research and the NIHR?

Research can be empowering as it helps you develop the tools to improve outcomes in your clinical area and answer pertinent questions in an increasingly complex healthcare system.

Engaging with research can lead to better job satisfaction as it allows you to contribute to new, innovative treatments. You do not have to leave your clinical role to do research, especially as working in a frontline care role is how you can come up with new research ideas, the two go hand in hand.

Traditionally, doctors have led the research, with nurses and midwives facing many barriers in conducting their own research. However, research requires more diverse voices around the table to help address the more complex health and social care problems we face.

What is your research project about?

My experience supporting patients living with chronic diseases led me to start thinking about developing my research questions. There was a gap in research from nurses in the literature, and I wanted to learn how to develop a clinical academic career to improve patient outcomes and reduce health inequalities. I, therefore, applied for the Versus Arthritis Allied Health Professionals and Nurse Internship Programme, which I am completing with Keele University.

As part of the internship, I reviewed proformas (forms used during the clinical encounter to collect information about the patient) used in Fracture Liaison Services (FLS) across the UK. The FLSs are typically nurse-led and identify people aged 50 and older who have had a fragility fracture to target for a bone health assessment, to reduce the chance of future fractures. The project aimed to understand commonalities and differences in FLS appointments and identify areas for improvement. I am also working on a second project looking at attitudes and beliefs of healthcare professionals towards opioid prescribing for chronic pain in the oldest old population.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I was a carer for my grandmother for eight years, and I saw first-hand the challenges of dementia care for ethnic minority patients. For example, she was discharged from neurology assessments because the test questions were not culturally relevant to her. We also experienced a lack of support in accessing inclusive services that catered to her needs.

I want to play a role in reducing health inequalities. I am passionate about removing barriers that allow health inequities in socially disadvantaged communities. Working in research has allowed me to be a voice for my community, bring my own lived experience forward, and champion the families and patients that look like me.

Find out more about the YPIR campaign on the NIHR's website.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.