Your path in research: Tracy's story
Tracy Cox is a clinical research nurse in the gynaecology team at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Greater Manchester. This is her Your Path in Research story.
I entered nursing later than most, when I was in my mid-40s having previously worked in a customer service role in a financial environment. I did my three years training and started my qualified career as a staff nurse in thoracic surgery. During this period, I developed an interest in the cancer patient pathway. This led me to completing the course ‘Foundation in Cancer Care’, which was based at the education centre at The Christie. On completion of the course, I wanted to develop this knowledge further and saw a vacancy for a staff nurse within the NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facility (CRF) at The Christie. I made contact with the unit manager and arranged an informal visit. This led to an application and subsequent interview, which I was successful in and commenced my new role on the CRF.
In my role as a Research Nurse, I specialise in gynaecology oncology and lead on a portfolio of studies within the team. The Research Nurse is central in assuring participant safety, ongoing maintenance of the informed consent process, the integrity of protocol implementation, and the accuracy of data collection. Basically, all activities relating to the trial and the patient.
The Research Nurse will ensure everything is in place for patients’ safe participation in the trial. For example, this could be having the correct bloods taken, requesting CT scans, and ensuring any side-effect data is documented and the sponsor informed. If any action is required the Research Nurse will ensure this is arranged and reported timely. All of this is an ongoing process from the initial identification of potential patients through to completion of study procedures.
There are differences between my old role and my research role. When I worked in an acute area, patients would be cared for post-procedure, which involved intense nursing input, regular observations, and managing pumps and drains, lots of hands-on nursing. Moving into research, my role is more around managing and prioritising my schedule and meeting deadlines laid out in the study protocol. Sometimes the role can be more administrative, spending a large portion of time in the office and planning and prepping. This was a difficult concept initially for a nurse from an acute background.
My current post initially was a steep learning curve and an ever-changing playing field, but it is a role I absolutely love. The Research Nurse will usually have close contact with the patient throughout the duration of trial participation. This can lead to a close relationship. Some patients can be on trial for a considerable length of time and I get to know my patients on a more personal level. Conversations are often about family weddings, new babies, and parties. Patients become ‘friends’ whilst still maintaining the professional boundaries.
Additionally to my Research Nurse role, I am a nurse advisor on one of the trials which means I look at the logistics of the patient journey. If a site is struggling to recruit patients, I look at the reasons why this is happening, consider the obstacles, and see if these can be addressed. The nurse advisor is also a listed contact in the protocol if site staff would like some nursing support.
If anyone is considering a career in research, I would say it’s a great place to be. You can be at the cutting edge of treatments and medicine. It can be very rewarding when you see encouraging results reported demonstrating success, leading to the treatment/drug being offered as a part of a bigger trial. Then if all goes well, you see the treatment/drug rolled out as a standard licenced treatment. It makes you feel very humble knowing you have played albeit a small part in the success of what could be life changing treatments and drugs.
The role can be very demanding, with lots of deadlines to meet. But the rewards outweigh this. I would encourage anyone who is interested in research to contact your local research team and ask if you could have a chat with them, maybe shadow a member of the team for a day to have some insight. No two days are ever the same. The phone constantly rings, there are meetings to go to, and there are always our lovely patients needing advice, guidance, and support. The job can be what you mould it into. As an example of this, I have become involved in a post-COVID relaunch of a patient support group, which has been incredibly rewarding.
The NIHR’s Your Path in Research campaign highlights how people can make research part of their career. Go to the NIHR website for more information on how to get started.