Case study: Q&A: Rhian Bull - Clinical Research Practitioner Engagement Lead
Q&A: Rhian Bull
Rhian Bull is a Clinical Research Practitioner (CRP), based at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in North West London. Here she answers questions about her career so far and her new role as CRP Engagement Lead.
What path did you take to get into research? What is your role in research now?
My journey into research was an interesting one and may be very different to many others. I initially studied Drama and I went on to pursue a professional career in acting. Due to my varying interests in people, education and technology, I had many other roles along the way.
An opportunity came up to work in Chelsea and Westminster Hospital to manage a project. This tempted me as it appealed to one of my other interests – Data! Thus, my transition into healthcare began and shortly after, I was working as a Research Assistant.
Now, anyone who knows this role will know that the title “research assistant” is an all-encompassing umbrella term for a multitude of roles and responsibilities. I worked over the years to develop myself in a clinical capacity and in time became responsible for coordinating and leading on my own portfolio of research studies utilising all of the skills I had and learning new ones along the way. With more knowledge came more responsibility and a greater complexity of studies, combined with a deeper understanding of clinical care and project management.
Due to my inquisitive nature, I took it upon myself to develop in as many ways as I could in order to become the most dynamic and flexible Study Co-ordinator I could be.
Fast-forward 9-and-a-half years and I have developed myself into a senior member of the team and I am a registered Clinical Research Practitioner. I lead on a variety of complex interventional and non-interventional studies in varying specialities across multiple clinical areas, including my favourite cohort of patients – Paediatrics!
I am autonomous in my role and have responsibility for mentoring and training others. My drama degree has not gone to waste as the skills are utilised on a daily basis; it really helps with my communication, coordination and leadership. I am creative in my approach to project management and try to make enrolment in a study fun and enjoyable (especially for my Paediatrics patients).
The reason I mention this is to demonstrate that whatever path you took to get into this role
– your experience and knowledge is valuable and your expertise can be utilised.
What is the role of a CRP in research?
The role of a CRP in research is to coordinate/manage multiple research studies, ensuring that projects are delivered in an ethical and safe manner whilst achieving a specific set of targets and data requirements. CRPs typically work on multiple research projects simultaneously, which may include trialling new medicines, treatments or observing current practice to find improvements.
CRPs work in patient facing roles and have clinical responsibilities determined by their allocated projects, which can include tasks such as collecting blood, obtaining ECGs and vital signs amongst other patient assessments according to clinical specialties.
A CRP will recruit participants into research studies, be a key point of contact throughout their journey, and have a responsibility to ensure that they have the best possible experience and care. As a central figurehead to the project, CRPs act as a source of knowledge about their portfolio of studies and use this to determine the logistics as well as coordinating multiple staff, clinical departments, participants and caregivers to ensure the successful delivery of the research.
A CRP will operate within a larger network of people including (but not limited to) medical staff, nurses, midwives, AHP’s and NHS stakeholders who will each have a designated role within the research study.
"Whatever this is – I am in!"
What inspired you to become a registered CRP?
In short – Dr Susan Hamer!
A good few years ago Susan came to our office (face-to-face was permitted back then) and she communicated her ideas for the development of the Clinical Research Practitioner role and her intention for it to gain a formal registration. Her belief in this workforce and her unequivocal support of all the people that were in roles like mine was heart-warming. For the first time I felt seen and recognised. Her passion and drive was so infectious that I had no doubt that she was going to achieve exactly what she was proposing. After her talk, I was so inspired that I instantly raised my hand and said – "whatever this is – I am in!"
After that day, there was an incredible amount of work done behind the scenes to create the directory and the registration programme, as we know it today. Some of this I am pleased to say I was a part of myself. I remember a very snowy trip up to Leeds where a big group of CRP enthusiasts spent the whole day debating the registration and the logistics of how it could be established.
It took some time for the registration to be available but of course, the NIHR did it, they achieved exactly what they had set out to do and I was very proud to have been a small part of that process.
As soon as I could make my application, I did. The value in this role was already so ingrained in me after meeting so many different and special people over the years who identified as clinical trials assistants, research assistants, clinical trials coordinators, amongst other things. Although the titles were different, we were all in many ways, just the same.
Susan’s understanding of that and her commitment to recognising the value of the people behind the titles is what made me want to be part of this novel and exciting journey right from the get go. I hope that in my role as a CRP Engagement Lead that I can make others feel inspired and proud of their roles, to feel seen and recognised just as Susan did for me all those years ago.
What do you feel are the benefits of being a registered CRP?
Firstly, it’s about recognition. To be seen and recognised as a valuable asset within the research network and to have the support and confidence in our skills, knowledge and ability to deliver and drive research in the future.
Registration will offer assurances to participants and other colleagues that we are a skilled and appropriately trained workforce. That we are competent in what we do, have demonstrated that we meet a set of standards and adhere to a scope of practice. Due to the accountability of a recognised registration, this will raise the overall confidence in our autonomy and levels of responsibility.
Registration will help with the overall development of the workforce and act as a baseline to standardising the roles, offering more scope for job opportunities and professional growth.
As registered practitioners, we will contribute to raising awareness about this important vital role and become role models for others.
What would you say to someone who was considering becoming a registered CRP?
Speak to others. If you have read this far then you clearly have some inquisitiveness about the registration process, so do not be afraid to get in touch. Start a conversation. There are so many CRPs and allies out there that are willing to help and answer questions. The CRP Engagement Leads are a good place to start but you can also join the Directory, the community forum, attend a CRP catch up meeting or simply contact the NIHR and they can put you in touch with the right people in your area.
By reaching out, you will benefit from a network of people who are an invaluable source of information and knowledge and can help you decide whether registration is right for you and to make the process as manageable and achievable as possible. You are not alone!
What are you looking forward to in your role as CRP Engagement Lead?
Meeting new people, hearing their stories and understanding how they got to this point today.
I am looking forward to helping them on their journey to registration and supporting them in realising their value and potential within this role. I will be proud to be an Engagement Lead in this growing network and have some part in shaping its future.
How do you envisage your role as a CRP Engagement Lead?
I aim to act as a useful and supportive resource for those interested in the registration process and to encourage them on their path to completion. I envisage being a point of contact for a wider network of people to ensure up-to-date information is disseminated and shared.
I aim to raise awareness to inform others about these roles, highlighting their potential and also to promote the benefits of registration. As the registration process develops and the pathway of the CRP establishes and grows, I anticipate this role will evolve with the landscape.
I humbly accept this challenge and hope I can be of service to those of you about to embark on this exciting new journey.
How would you like other CRPs who are interested in becoming registered to contact you?
Drop me a line on email@example.com and we can arrange the best ways in which I can help and be of support.
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