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Your Path in Research: A midwife's journey

Your Path in Research: A midwife's journey

Emma Tanton works as both a research midwife and community midwife at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust. As part of the NIHR’s #YourPathInResearch campaign, Emma blogs about how research changed a family member’s life forever, and how her combined role gives her great job satisfaction.


I should start by saying that midwifery wasn’t my first career choice. I only qualified eight-and-a-half years ago from the University of Manchester. I was previously working as a management accountant within industry. 

I discovered my passion for research while at university. This was my first in-depth introduction to the world of research and the substantial impact it has on our day-to-day clinical practice and the care we provide. It became fairly obvious to me and my personal tutor, who mentioned at graduation that she would see me when I was doing my Masters in research, that research would play a part in my future midwifery career.

Just before graduation, my father was diagnosed with Stage IV, metastatic prostate cancer.  Although his prognosis was poor, he consented to take part in a research trial called STAMPEDE. We didn’t know at the time, but this study would change all of our lives forever. My father was randomised to receive a drug at the beginning of his treatment that wasn’t normally available until after all first line treatments had been exhausted. Because of research, he is still here eight-and-a-half years later, living with cancer, but it’s well controlled and he’s leading a fairly normal life, running his own company and living life to the full!

As a newly-qualified midwife, I started work at Royal Bolton Hospital, rotating through the different areas of the unit. Whilst on delivery suite, an opportunity for a Band 6 research midwife for the INFANT trial came up. The study was evaluating Intelligent Fetal Monitoring during labour. I didn’t apply as I was only a preceptor, but I was really keen. I was encouraged by the matron to apply and a short time later I had my first job as a research midwife. As a first experience in implementing and delivering a clinical research trial, this role was very challenging as it was a large study in which we recruited 1,068 participants over an 18-month period.

This role ended at the end of 2014, and normal midwifery resumed. I consolidated my skills and eventually moved into a community role delivering antenatal, intrapartum and postnatal care. A colleague had secured a role as research midwife for the trust and, at this point, I didn’t think I would move back into research again. My role as a community midwife was rewarding and I enjoyed the continuity provided to women and families in my care.

However, in August 2017 the research midwife role became available and, after a nerve-wracking interview, the job was mine for one day a week!  Since then, it feels like I’ve been on a rollercoaster. Balancing two part-time roles has been a challenge, but continuing to work within a clinical role has helped me maintain my working relationship with colleagues and encourage staff to become more involved in the recruitment of participants.

I have been able to provide continuity to participants in some studies, such as the STOPPIT-2 trial and Big Baby Trial. Being a part-time community midwife has given me the opportunities to not only identify participants in the community setting, but to also follow their journey through a trial and then provide postnatal care to them once home. This continuity not only provides an amazing sense of job satisfaction for me, but it also provides a familiar face for the women and their families when I provide the care and advice they need postnatally.

The role has now expanded to three days a week and myself and Kat, the research practitioner for reproductive health, are aiming to deliver more trials across our specialties. We are looking to embed research within the trust by delivering information about current and upcoming trials to frontline staff via mandatory training days, huddles and one-to-one conversations. I’ve become Principal Investigator for two observational studies and we are also looking forward to celebrating International Year of the Nurse and Midwife 2020 by identifying research champions within different clinical areas and acknowledging their contribution to screening and recruitment.

The one question I am asked the most by my colleagues is: Do you miss clinical work? My answer is always the same: I’m still very much involved in clinical work. When recruiting participants I will invariably be using my training to identify, recruit, perform any observations, do antenatal checks, give advice and seek further assistance. My knowledge of midwifery and evidence-based practice has to be robust, to be able to identify studies, read protocols and assess our ability to implement and deliver, working alongside our own policies and protocols.  So the answer is: No I don’t miss it, because working clinically is an integral part of my research role.