An interview with….
Marina Forbes is a busy woman. She helps lead a running club, attempts challenging hobbies such as ‘bouldering’ and makes regular trips to visit family in Ireland. Alongside her busy work as a research audiologist, she has also recently taken up the post of Audiology Research Champion, at The Royal National Ear Nose and Throat Hospital of University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH).
What is your new role and what will you be doing?
“Research champions (RCs) are important because they provide specialised support and guidance to study delivery teams who require expertise from someone who is like-minded in their professional and clinical background.
“Their role is to get more people interested and involved in research so that we can provide better care to patients.
“RCs do this by reaching out to healthcare professionals to explore how studies can be feasibly implemented within clinical settings. They also promote research at professional meetings and conferences, with workshops and presentations. Later, RCs can help local clinical teams become ready for research by providing them with the relevant training and support. Specialised RCs can even help with study set-up and early delivery phases, to ensure they run smoothly and to the highest standard.”
What first gave you the idea of working in research?
“I have always been interested in research because I know that everyday healthcare practices are based on research evidence. I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of research when I was studying at the University of Southampton. One of my projects involved recruiting participants with hearing loss and it was really nice to see how interested they were in the project and in what the results would show. I felt that having a small part to play in audiology research could have a positive impact on the lives of many people living with hearing loss and hearing-related symptoms.”
How did you develop your career?
“I first studied at the University of Southampton and obtained an integrated Master's degree in Healthcare Science (Audiology). I was particularly interested in audiology because of the positive impact the audiologist can have in improving the quality of life in people living with hearing and balance difficulties. I have always been interested in helping people so it seemed like the perfect career pathway for me.
“My first job was a summer job as an audiologist, after my placement as an undergraduate student, and before I proceeded with my Master’s. After this, my career began in The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, after I completed my Master’s, in 2016. The job involved adult rehabilitation, assisting in clinics, visiting in-patients who needed help with their hearing aids and creating a template for ease of referral to ENT. I really enjoyed being part of the team and seeing how practices were regularly updated whenever new guidance from the British Society of Audiology was released.
“I moved to east London after a year to try a role in paediatric audiology; testing the hearing of children and teenagers. It was very different as it involved using tests specifically for children (including babies) who could not respond to sounds behaviorally.
“Later, I explored what the private sector of audiology involves. I formed part of a small team on Harley Street and learned how to perform microsuction (a method of wax removal) and fit hearing aids to private adult clients.
“When the Covid-19 pandemic started in 2020, I decided to go home to Ireland to be closer to my family but learned that a role had come up at the Royal National Ear Nose and Throat Hospital within UCLH. I applied for the role excitedly because although I enjoyed my time in the private sector, I felt more of a pull to the NHS and felt that I could learn a lot by joining a team in a specialist hospital.
“I was delighted to get the role as specialist audiologist in the adult hearing aid centre and since then, the team at UCLH have been very supportive of me in the development of my career. I had always been eager to spot opportunities to develop myself within my profession and in 2021, the chance for a secondment to the evidENT research team at the UCL Ear Institute arose. I was very lucky to succeed in securing the role as a Research Audiologist and since then have decided to remain in research to pursue a chance to expand the audiology research portfolio across the NT CRN.
“The NIHR has been really helpful in my development. It has supported studies which are ongoing in the evidENT team and helped me to gain my Good Clinical Practice certification. My new role as audiology champion at UCLH is now funded by NIHR too.”
What sort of research are you currently involved in?
“One study I am particularly proud to work on is the 'Assessing memory in older adults in hearing aid appointments' feasibility study. I worked on developing this study's protocol with Dr Rohani Omar, Consultant in Audiovestibular Medicine. The study involved looking at logistics in terms of how best to implement the study in a way which had little impact on the clinical service. It was at times challenging but has been highly rewarding so far. The study is still ongoing and we are very excited to see what the results will show and what conclusions come from the research.
“Another study which I'm currently working on, involves tablet-based hearing tests on patients who are going through chemotherapy which is known to have potential toxic effects on the hearing. The study has been extremely interesting, though at times also challenging. I have been in awe of the patients and their willingness to take part in research when they are already going through so much. It has been a privilege to be able to get to know and test these patients.”
Have you ever taken part in research yourself?
“Yes. I have taken part in some research which involved testing out a pair of Samsung headphones and feeding back on how well they performed in different listening scenarios. It was fun to be on the other end of research.”
What do you love about working in research?
“I love working with patients in particular. It is exciting to recruit patients to studies and see their reactions and responses. Without patient volunteers we wouldn't be able to perform the exciting research. It has also been fun motivating my colleagues in the hearing aid centre to agree to help with research. It has been very rewarding to help members of staff at UCLH become research-ready.”
Why do you feel research is important?
“Clinical research is important because it helps healthcare improve and move forward. By doing so, this ultimately helps patients in their day-to-day lives.”
What would you say to others thinking of adding research to their lives?
“I would say that is highly rewarding and mostly fun! For me, I found that it's also a great learning opportunity and gives you the chance to think outside of your normal scope of practice. So it feels like a win-win situation: helping patients and professional development.
“If thinking up a new research idea, it can be even more fun and rewarding because it gives the professional a chance to develop their project management skills and allows them to oversee the project and work in their own time.
“If a patient or member of the public is interested in getting involved in research, that’s fantastic, and there are many ways to be involved. There may be opportunities to become a participant in a study, or to work with researchers to help them to design their projects.
"If a patient or public member has a research idea, I would be very keen to learn more about it and can guide them to submit their idea to the NIHR if it looks clinically relevant and impactful for the wider population.”
What attracted you to this role as a Research Champion?
“I thought the role of research champion would be a great opportunity to help audiology departments become more involved in research. The role interested me because it allows me to meet and network with other audiologists and to explore the research ideas and questions for improving patient care and outcomes. I also hope to explore how we can motivate and encourage more research to be carried out in audiology settings.”
What are your aspirations for your new role?
“I want to get to know other audiologists and clinical leads around the region and have open discussions about research audiology. I hope I can help audiologists become involved in research, starting with introducing them to Good Clinical Practice training. Then we can think about setting up and delivering studies where we will recruit some wonderful patients. I hope that audiologists around North Thames will feel comfortable in seeking help and advice from me where they need support in delivering their research projects.”