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Case study: Alison Welfare-Wilson a 70@70 Senior Nurse Research Leader describes how she started on her path to research

For this year's Your Path in Research campaign CRN KSS talks to people working in research about how they started their path to research and what advice they would give to people wanting to learn more about a career in research.

How did you start your research career?

Since qualifying as a mental health nurse in 2002 I have been interested in research and evidence-based practice. Yet throughout my training research was not a focus or a requirement. I therefore qualified with a passion, but I had no clue, no skill, and certainly no confidence in any aspect of research including literature searching through to developing an idea.

From the outset, I worked in areas that had a strong focus on evidence-based practice. My first job was in a day hospital, such a move was considered to be a dead-end move and a complete non-starter for a newly qualified position. However, it was managed by two cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) nurse therapists, and from the beginning, I was encouraged to see gaps in service provision and client need and how to develop ways of meeting and evidencing these. At this time there was no R&D department in the Trust, we did some excellent work, but did nothing with it. After nine years of working at the Trust and working in A&E liaison, I moved to an Early Intervention in Psychosis (EIP) Service, it was here that I was able to start to get my teeth into research.

EIP has a strong evidence base and I was able to use an array of skills in my work from psycho-social interventions to behavioural family therapy, in which the whole team was trained in. Most importantly, however, there was a clinical psychologist who became somewhat of a research mentor to me. She taught me about processes of research, critiquing and she began to invite me to a Trust research interest group which she chaired, which was terrifying and did nothing for my confidence as it was a room of clinical psychologists all of whom had experience and confidence in research. Then there was me, the only nurse who Googled everything and nodded at what they were talking about.

I persevered and began to link in with the R&D team. I attended any course and conference that I could. This led to me undertaking my Good Clinical Practice (GCP) training and becoming a Principal Investigator (PI) whilst still in clinical practice, still managing a full caseload. I then had an opportunity to develop CBT based groups for the service, one of which I based my BSc dissertation on, which was then modified based on feedback into one-day workshops which formed the basis of my MSc. With support from my ‘mentor’ I was successful in publishing these, together we went on to write and publish an article discussing the differences between nurses and psychologists in research.

What advice would you give to colleagues who want to learn more about a career in research?

I would encourage staff interested in research to first make contact with their R&D team, and take any opportunities to attend internal or external research conferences and training. Most of all, be brave and try something that is of interest to you. Have a chat about that idea you have had for a while, even if it’s not quite research, we will listen and signpost you to where you need to go. Don’t worry about what you don’t know, as nurses we may not be taught about research, or just did what we had to to get through a dissertation. It’s ok to Google things and not understand some research papers. I believe nurses are creative and innovative and can see areas to better service and patient care.