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Case study: International Nurses Day: "Making a difference"

Nikki White

On International Nurses Day, Nikki White, the Lead Research Nurse at The Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, talks us through her career, from starting off as a newly qualified nurse in Bristol to becoming the Lead Research Nurse at a busy NHS trust.

When I first saw a research nursing job advertised, I’d never heard of research nursing before and had no idea as to what it involved. I had recently completed my Diabetes Specialist Nurse (DSN) course but did not want to become a DSN. I made enquires about the role which really interested me so I applied and was successful.

Initially the post was a 12-month secondment for two days a week so I was able to remain in my ward-based job the rest of the time. The study that I was working on was a paediatric type 1 diabetes study which had not had anyone working on it for some time so I had to get all the data and patient visits back up to date, which by the time the secondment finished I had managed to complete and everything was back on schedule.

Following completion of the secondment a permanent full-time research nurse position became available and I was successfully appointed.

To start with I worked mainly on one study and assisted my colleagues with numerous others. I remember recruiting my first patient and having to take on every step of the visit from ensuring the consent was taken and recorded correctly to spinning, processing, packing and arranging collection of blood samples which needed to be couriered to a central lab. I had never seen a centrifuge before, let alone know how one worked. My line manager at the time came with me, showed me once how it worked, checked I felt ok with how to use it and left me to carry on.

So, there I was, seeing patients in a converted clinic room that was previously a toilet at Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham. I soon became involved with much larger studies, especially commercial ones, mainly in cardiology.

A key moment in my career was when I received a two-day notification that one of my studies was going to be scrutinised as part of an MHRA inspection. This involved me being descended on by several members of the study team from different parts of Europe in preparation for the actual inspection, which was taking place later the same week.

One of my proudest moments was at the end of the inspection I was commended on the high standard of my documentation and efficient running of the study.

I moved to Harlow and The Princess Alexandra Hospital in 2012. It was a big change for me, as it was a much smaller trust and not as research active.

Since I’ve been here, and after I was appointed Lead Research Nurse in 2013, I have successfully grown the whole research team with regard to the number of open studies, the ratio of commercial/non-commercial studies and development of clinical roles and responsibilities. Through my initial experiences when I was new to research I strive to give my team the support and training that was lacking for me.

I am often heard saying that the area of clinical research is a very niche specialty, that can open many doors, as we work across so many different areas. There’s no other job like it. We have a different relationship with consultants to other nurses and they work with us in a different way, as they rely on us to know the studies inside out.

The job has also enabled me to broaden my cultural horizons, as I have attended many investigator meetings to a number of European countries, which has given me the opportunity to meet people and network with others throughout the research field.

The NIHR has supported me in raising the profile of the research undertaken at The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust and also given me the opportunity and support to grow and develop the team, especially with creating new posts. For example, we were the first trust to employ a Research Healthcare Assistant post back in 2015.

In the future, I would hope that research nursing becomes embedded within student nurse training and as a core placement, as this in turn would raise the profile of research nursing across the board.

I would always encourage anyone thinking about entering a career in research to go and spend some time with, or shadow, a member of the team at their Trust to gain an insight and knowledge of what the role entails.