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Case study: What is a Clinical Research Practitioner? Ruth's Story

The contribution that Allied Health Professionals can make to research

My Name is Ruth Johns and I joined the Clinical Research Network West Midlands in September 2019 as a Clinical Research Practitioner (CRP) with over 20 years’ experience of working for the NHS as an Occupational Therapist (OT). 

 I have written this Blog as a way to  shine a light on the emerging Clinical Research Practitioner role

When I started in the role of CRP, I had not fully appreciated that the profession was still in relative infancy. On the realisation that I was one of two CRPs within the  CRN WM at the time of my joining, I had a sudden flurry of questions as to who we are and how does our role fit within the Delivery Support Team (DST), and indeed whether as CRPs we were doing the same thing.  

I now realise that I was experiencing these questions, at a time when the NIHR and Academy for Healthcare Science was trying to formulate the answers and establish a clear CRP professional identity.

It was only 12 months prior to me joining the CRN that the CRP directory was launched.  The Directory gives CRPs access to support and information which has positively reinforced my CRP identity.  It provides opportunity to network and link into the huge amount of work that’s going on in the background to support the recognition and development of an  accredited CRP profession.  

Since April 2020 the doors have been opened to CRP peers to be fully recognised and registered as an accredited CRP.  This is via the Academy for Healthcare Sciences Accredited Register.  A fantastic achievement for our profession and has provided a sense of recognition by our clinical and research peers.  We now even have our own annual day to celebrate the contribution that CRPs make in the delivery of clinical research. It was held on 14 March this year together with an online conference to celebrate the work of CRPs during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As part of DST workforce planning, I have been deployed to several of our Partner Organisations and it is through this experience that I have recognised that as a CRP I am part of a larger group of research clinicians than I first acknowledged.  The term CRP is an umbrella term for other research posts including clinical studies officers and clinical trials practitioners.  

Many CRPs do not have nursing or medical experience or qualifications. In fact CRPs come from a diverse clinical, academic, and occupational background. Yet CRPs are all united in our enthusiasm, attainment of academic knowledge/skills and are experienced in delivering valid clinical research.

The DST is evolving into a multidisciplinary team of research practitioners similar to the NHS and social care staffing model.  When I was practising as a clinical OT, a member of what is a small profession, I was also part of a larger group known as Allied Health Professionals (AHPs). AHPs are made up of 14 recognised professions.  

In research it is my perception that the group of people delivering valid clinical research, and  skilled in therapy, social care, psychology, health sciences, public health are known as CRPs. So whilst we may have differing job titles and specific duties, we are bringing together a similar set of skills supported by shared research principles and theories.  

This is further supported by our own theoretical frames of reference and experiences which helps to enrich the knowledge and skill set of the wider delivery team to the benefit of research delivery and outcomes.

In recent times, the UK Government called for an agile research delivery workforce to support research across the Health and Social Care sectors. The CRN WM has responded to this call by expanding its services, skills, and resources to enable accessible health and social care sector research delivery. This drive to deliver research beyond the traditional walls of the NHS provides compatibility and opportunity for CRPs, with their diverse clinical, academic, and occupational experience.  Hence this is the perfect time to shine the light on this emerging role with more of us joining the  CRN WM Delivery Support Team.