From paper hats and hair grips to changing the NHS: Proud to be a nurse in research

A group of four nurses caring for a patient in a hospital bed.

To mark international nurses day, Sue Wood (CLAHRC Greater Manchester Operations and Projects Manager and qualified nurse) blogs about how she got into being a research nurse.

A graphic of a female nurse wearing a white hat.My nursing career began way way back in 1989 in the days before a young Gary Barlow had even met the other four members of Take That, and many years before ‘ask Google’ was a stock phrase to help you out of any situation. Little did I know, dressed proudly in my blue and white checked uniform and white paper hat that had to be secured with precision with a multitude of hair grips, what life had in store for me and how my nursing career choices would change in the years ahead.

Back on that first day as I stepped on to ward L11 at Ladywell Hospital – which for those too young to remember stood where McDonald’s now stands on the edge of Eccles town centre – I was keen to learn and put all the skills we had been practising intently for the previous eight weeks at the Salford School of Nursing into practice. I was particularly keen to know if practicing my injection technique on an orange would be a help or a hindrance when it came to injecting a real human being.

I don’t recall hearing the word ‘research’ mentioned very often. The School of Nursing hadn’t yet moved into academia; that was to come the year after with the advent of ‘Project 2000’, when the academic level of training for nurses was established at a minimum of higher education diploma. We were taught practical things and learned from the experience of others, we often did things without question and sometimes we just hoped for the best. That tub of sugar paste that sat in the wounds dressing cupboard had been used for years and we didn’t question whether there was something better and indeed even if we had we didn’t have the skills or knowledge to try and find out. I knew, however, that I was driven by a desire to make a difference to patients and my questioning mind and need to change things for the better led me down the path into academia. Whilst still doing my day job working at Salford Royal I began my nursing diploma and continued on to masters level where I began to understand much more about how research plays a crucial part in providing the evidence to support the best nursing care for our patients.

Many years later after a varied career in elderly care nursing, diabetes specialist nursing and clinical research nursing I find myself working for the NIHR CLAHRC Greater Manchester. The aim of CLAHRC is to deliver high quality research which improves healthcare by carrying out research and putting it into practice. I am proud to say how vital the nursing profession is to the work that we do and how my own experiences of being in a nursing role have helped me to contribute more effectively to the work of CLAHRC through an understanding of how patient care should be delivered and improved.Male nurse

In our wound care programme, nurses and other allied health professional groups from all our partner trusts have been helping us to identify local wound care uncertainties, priorities for research and also helping us to understand how decisions are made in the treatment of complex wounds. The experience that nurses have managing wounds day-to-day is invaluable in helping us to understand where to prioritise our research and implementation projects to really make a difference within the NHS, enhancing the quality of care and outcomes for patients with complex wounds.

In our kidney health programme, nurses in primary care have been contributing to improvements in the care of people with chronic kidney disease and acute kidney injury. As they are often the people responsible for managing many long-term conditions in primary care, nurses have the potential to make a huge difference in improving outcomes for patients.  

In our end-of-life programme, palliative care nurses and community nurses have contributed to setting priorities for research to ensure that the priorities for our research are based on local need. They have also been involved in the scoping of education and training needs for the workforce caring for people affected by cancer across Greater Manchester, helping to improve the training provided to better care for people with cancer.

In our exploiting technologies programme, nurses are playing a vital role in the recruitment of patients to a trial exploring services for people with impaired glucose tolerance.

As a profession I would say nursing has come a long way from the days when we knew little about research and the benefits of evidence-based care, to a world in which nurses play a vital role in contributing to research, doing research and being able to use research to improve patient care. Research doesn’t provide all the answers; I was surprised to hear that the uncertainties nurses were discussing in our wound care priority setting event are some of the uncertainties I struggled with back in my early career, but we are undoubtedly now in a much better position to make choices based on evidence and not just hope. Through the work of CLAHRC we hope to continue to support nurses in this role and we will continue to benefit from the valuable contribution they make to our work.

I have to say though, I do miss that little paper hat and the endless hair grips…