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Case study: "When you successfully complete a research project, it gives you a drive to do more"

Brigid Sharkey

In the latest of our series on Allied Health Professionals in research, Brigid Sharkey, a Critical Care Dietitian at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, talks about her experience of research and how getting involved in simple things can be the start of a research journey.

How did you first get involved in research?

My first opportunity to become involved in research was the EFFORT Trial. The trial looked at comparing standard and high levels of protein to patients who were critically ill. This was a subject that was very much of interest to me and to our Critical Care Dietetic team on the whole. It was very much a team “effort” (excuse the pun) to get to the point where we were able to commit to participation. We had to investigate the potential cost and time implications and obtain approval from our divisional management team. However, it was worth it, and we are now actively seeking new research opportunities.

What has been the highlight of your research career so far?

Being a successful Primary Investigator for the EFFORT Trial at Barking, Having and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust was a significant personal achievement for me. To successfully meet our recruitment target was important to me. However, without the active support from our Critical Care Research Team Lead, Dr Mandeep Phull, we would never of had the opportunity to participate at all, so I am immensely grateful to her.

What skills do you think are needed for a career in research?

I think you need to be motivated to make a difference within the speciality that you work in. It takes significant time and applies an additional pressure to your work life that may not be suitable for everyone. However, if you have the right people around you, you can do it and it is very rewarding.

Why do you believe research is important?

Research in nutrition and especially in Critical Care Nutrition remains under explored with national and international guidance often based on small trials which may not have achieved significantly proven results or based on expert opinion. However, we are lucky in the UK to have several high-profile figures that are very proactive in the area of critical care nutrition research. I hope that locally BHRUT can become a leading feature in research and critical care. The role that nutrition can play in patient care and their recovery from critical illness remains a priority for me.

What are your plans and ambitions for the future?

When you successfully complete a research project, it really gives you an incentive and drive to do more. I want to remain research active, and I continue to be in close contact with our research team about potential opportunities. We have the bedspace and the patient acuity at BHRUT to contribute important outcomes that could make the difference on a patient's journey through critical illness.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would say to any AHP that is considering research, reach out to your local research team and see what support and guidance they could offer. You don’t necessarily need to lead on a new randomised controlled trial but small service-improvement projects and audit work can be the first stepping stone to your research journey. You won’t regret it!

  • For more information about starting your career in research as an Allied Health Professional, go to the Your Path in Research website.