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Case study: “We are at a fantastic time in research” – East of England Research Nurse champions NIHR career development opportunities

“We are at a fantastic time in research, as the NIHR are focusing so much on enabling community nurses to expand their capacity and create their capability to identify and fill those evidence gaps."

International Nurses Day is commemorated around the world every 12 May, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth, and it is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the crucial work that nurses do. 

Donna Clements is a Clinical Research Nurse at Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust (NCH&C) and an NIHR Senior Research Leader.

Her research career began very soon after qualifying as a Registered Nurse, as she was asked to coordinate an international drug study for multiple sclerosis (MS). This experience was a pivotal moment for Donna. She said:

“My drive for research really started then, as at that time treatment options for MS were very limited. This chance to be part of a new generation for testing new medications just lit something inside of me that I didn't even know existed until I had this opportunity.”

Following her experience with this study, Donna worked with a drug company and completed her Master’s in clinical research. She then moved her career into primary and community care, delivering NIHR portfolio research investigating a variety of different conditions.

A career defining moment for Donna came from her work on the BEST3 study, an NIHR-funded trial led by the East of England. This was investigating if a Cytosponge (pill on a string) could help diagnose Barrett’s oesophagus in people who are on medication for long term heartburn, and to see if it could help detect early cancerous changes.

The trial found that the Cytosponge detected 10 times more cases of Barrett’s oesophagus compared with routine GP care. The study has recently entered its final stage to see if it can halve the number of deaths from oesophageal cancer. Donna said:

“I'm so proud to see the success of that particular trial, and I was so privileged to be part of that team that will change so many people's lives in years to come.”

In 2023, Donna enrolled onto the NIHR’s Senior Research Leader (SRL) Programme, which offers nurses and midwives the opportunity to shape and embed a research culture within their organisation and beyond. She explains:

“The SRL Programme allows me to bring together all the experiences that I've had over the years, and to think about the opportunities that I can now offer to community nurses so that they can take their first step into research.

“My dream is for all community nurses to be fully equipped and to be able to spot gaps in evidence and be able to know how they can fill those gaps with research, so they can confidently go into people's homes and know that they are delivering the best possible care for them.”

Donna champions the opportunities that the NIHR offers to health and social care staff, and she praises the “range of opportunities for nurses to build research into their careers.” She explains:

“With the NIHR, you can start your journey wherever is appropriate for you, so take what's important to you in your nursing care and then find the opportunity that fits where you are on your journey.

“We are at a fantastic time in research, as the NIHR are focusing so much on enabling community nurses to expand their capacity and create their capability to identify and fill those evidence gaps.

“I would say to any community nurses who are out there, just take a look at what's on offer, and there will be something for you!”

A key resource for community nurses wanting to explore building research into their career is the Queen’s Nursing Institute Community Nursing Research Forum. You can join the network for peer support, mentorship and watch masterclasses.

The NIHR receives funding from the government to help nurses and midwives develop research skills, knowledge, and experience. If you want to make a difference to people's lives through health and care research, visit the Research Careers Framework.