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My love for a role in research

kayleigh gilbert

Kayleigh Gilbert is the Research Team Lead at Whittington Health NHS Trust but had no idea when she first started her career, that she’d end up working with the research she now loves.

Kayleigh has shared her story in the hope it might encourage others to consider integrating research in their own careers, regardless of whether they are clinically trained.  

She tells us how it all came about. She explains:

“Like a lot of people, I came to research in a very roundabout way. After completing a psychology degree, I worked in a psychiatric hospital but came across an advertisement for a research administrator job. I’d enjoyed the research element of my degree and I was keen to gain experience in an NHS hospital, so as the role looked so interesting and was based at Bradford Institute for Health Research at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, I decided to apply.

“Being in an NHS hospital for the first time completely opened my eyes to the number of diverse roles needed to make it run. It felt good to be a part of that and I felt very supported as part of a team.

“I was particularly interested in what the research nurses were doing and began to get more involved. My admin role was contributing to the research, but it somehow felt more ‘real’ going into clinics, meeting patients are seeing it from their side too.”

Kayleigh enjoyed the research aspect so much that she moved to London in the hope of further opportunities. It was here she found a Clinical Research Practitioner (CRP) role at London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust before moving into a similar role at the Whittington, where she began to get more and more involved with the delivery of studies. She explains:

“It felt like a natural progression. I’d always assumed that you needed to be a nurse to work with patients but there are a variety of roles and that isn’t always the case. It made it all the more interesting too, that there were so many people from different areas and backgrounds all bringing differing knowledge and strengths.” 

It was at this time that Kayleigh was offered a place on the NIHR Advanced Leadership Programme (ALP). This, she feels, made an enormous impact on her career. She says:

“I felt really lucky to be on the programme. Sometimes you can be in a bit of a silo in the hospital, and it was great to be with others doing a similar role. It gave us real insight into how others operate at different trusts and the different ways of doing things. It was challenging and deeply personal at times but enables you to bring your whole self to your role.”

Whilst working as a CRP at the Whittington, a position arose, for a Research Team Lead. At first Kayleigh was hesitant, as she explains: 

“Like a lot of people and especially women, I suffered from ‘imposter syndrome’ at the start. Despite being competent and working hard I didn’t have the confidence in my own ability. No one else was making me feel it, it was coming from me, and I had to confront myself with it.”

Kayleigh was so struck by the effect imposter syndrome had on her own life that she is now exploring this as part of her research in a Master’s degree.

“Lots of people feel it but if you voice it you can start to overcome it to develop your own career. The ALP programme helped me to challenge the feeling and start overcoming my lack of self-belief. It was that which gave me the confidence to apply.”

Kayleigh was successful in overcoming her barriers and has enjoyed working in the team lead role for almost five years. She says:

“I feel we are in a privileged position. There is space to be a reflective about what you are doing. It’s a bit of extra time with patients too, where you can really get to know them and understand their journey. The kindness of people in putting themselves forward for research is so heart-warming, it’s a really special position to be in.”

During this time, Kayleigh has also contributed to the development of the Clinical Research Practitioners (CRP) directory. The directory brings together those who are not registered to a healthcare profession and working in a research delivery role that involves direct contact with patients or other study participants. Kayleigh has been involved since the beginning of the project and features in one of the directory’s launch video. She says:

“It’s been an exciting period watching the directory evolve.,” she adds. “It’s thrilling to see the registry is now open and it will be wonderful to watch it grow.” 

Not all her research path has been easy. COVID-19 had a huge impact on research as it did in many areas, and it wasn’t easy working in a hospital environment. She tells us:

“It was a tough time for many of my colleagues and the research we conducted became very Covid-focused but there have been good things to emerge from the experience too.

“People used to glaze over when you said you worked in research, but Covid has increased awareness and now people are much more interested in what it has to offer.

“We all feel better as a team too, it has grounded us and helped us all better understand the processes and the importance of running research in the hospital.” 

Kayleigh and many of her colleagues were involved in the SIREN study which ran at many healthcare sites, including Whittington. The study measured the level of COVID-19 infections and antibodies in healthcare workers to help track the spread of COVID-19 and more than 260 staff at the Whittington took part. Kayleigh says:

“SIREN has been amazing for networking with staff around the hospital. They came to us to participate, and we got to know the different teams. Now they are all much more aware about research; they know where we are and what we do.”    

The hospital also ran the RECOVERY trial, comparing various treatments for COVID-19.

Kayleigh explains: “We were involved with many aspects of the patient pathway for RECOVERY. We were involved in randomisation, ensuring patients were allocated to the correct arm of the trial and with follow ups as well as processing the trial data. It got us working closely with many other teams, including pharmacy. It was a turbulent time and so intense, with lots of admissions, but it was incredible to be working on studies that were changing practice as it was happening. Results from the RECOVERY study have informed and changed practice all over the world and that’s a big thing to be part of.

“Sometimes you can get bogged down but Covid reminded me just how important research is. We have treatments now that we didn’t have 18 months ago. The impact drives home when you see the results so vividly. The altruism of those first people signing up to test vaccines was very inspiring and look, here we are now, all being vaccinated. Research makes a real difference.”

When asked about getting other professionals involved in research, Kayleigh says:

“We try to help staff understand that research can be integrated into their current role and embedded in all manner of different clinical teams. We also do our part to make research as accessible as possible for staff who are managing different priorities and have less time to devote to research.”

So why should others get involved? She answers:

“Research is essential! Not just in the NHS and the UK, it helps inform knowledge globally and improve healthcare for everyone. We wouldn’t be where we are now in so many areas of healthcare were it not for the researchers and the wonderful people who volunteer.     

“Patients benefit too. More and more people want further options and research gives them access to new opportunities so that they can choose what is right for them.”

And what’s next? Kayleigh says:

“I will be finishing the final year of my masters but the team we have here is brilliant and I want to continue to develop that, as well as build on the interest Covid has generated in research across the wider community.

“I want to get even more staff involved. Even if it’s just a small part of their job, it helps increase access to research for patients.”

Any final words?

“If you work across the NHS, go and find your research team. Go in with an open mind and have a coffee and chat to see what’s happening locally. Be open to new opportunities and remind yourself what an enormous difference research makes to so many lives and in every field of medicine.”