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Nurses, midwives & allied health professionals in research

Introduction: Nurses, midwives and allied health professionals (AHPs) in research

The numbers of nurses, midwives and allied health professionals (NMAHPs) in research have been growing in recent years, as a result of a commitment to evidence-based health care. By carrying out high-quality research it is possible to answer important questions about health and health care – for example:
  • Which treatments work best and for which patients? 
  • What outcomes matter to patients, their families and the health professionals caring for them? 
Many current care options and treatment pathways are available to patients because of previous research carried out. 
 
 

Christine explained that there is not always a direct benefit to the participants in studies, but hopefully there will be one for future patients.

Christine explained that there is not always a direct benefit to the participants in studies, but hopefully there will be one for future patients.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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Not all studies give the patients a-, there's not always a benefit for the patient, but it's about the bigger picture. And so I think as long as you sell it or tell them that that's what it's about, it's about adding to that picture, and the more information we get to this picture, then hopefully somewhere down the line- especially with diabetes and sort of for example the [study name 2] study, it's about screening relatives. So, you know, these people have got relatives who've got type one. They don't. They're well participants who are contributing, who are agreeing to have a blood sample taken and information taken, and look to see whether they've got the antibodies, to give us information. And hopefully they'll come in to monitoring because that's the important bit, really.
To get that long term picture of patients who've got antibodies, and what that journey for them is going to be before they will develop type one, or do- may develop type one.

And when you explain that to them, that it's about that travelling, that journey with them, to gain as much information. Possibly not for their benefit. But hopefully it's going to add to that aim of 'can we find a cure for type one', or ‘can we prevent it'. 

So it's about- for me, it's about knowing the study. It's about looking at what your patient is going to gain from it. And if they're not going to gain something, what are they going to give to the society, to the group in the whole. And I think everybody wants to feel that they've done something to help. And I think that can be a very positive thing, and a very positive way of putting the study across.
 

Dawn had heard about research suggesting that research-active hospitals “generally give better care overall to their patients”, not just those enrolled on studies.

Dawn had heard about research suggesting that research-active hospitals “generally give better care overall to their patients”, not just those enrolled on studies.

Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
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I feel that we’re providing-, the patients we get on our studies you know get better care. And hospitals that provide research to their patients and research studies to their patients generally give better care overall to their patients. Not just the patients that are on the study. And so I think for that reason as well, I want my, my patients and my hospital and my, and the wards that I work alongside, to provide the best care possible for the patients. And that’s important. And I feel as if we’re changing what’s gonna happen in the future. And that actually some of the studies we do might have a different outcome to what, what we would want, but that’s information still really important. Really important.
 

Julie talked about the value of health research for patients, the health professionals caring for them, and the overall health care system.

Julie talked about the value of health research for patients, the health professionals caring for them, and the overall health care system.

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So I mean we’re working, you know, in patient, with patients who unfortunately ten years ago may have died. And so we’re making improvements all the time and research is a, is a core part of that. I mean, I mean it’s been shown, hasn’t it, that if a Trust is research active, even if the patients themselves aren’t in a study, that you get better outcomes. Patients anywhere in that hospital will get better outcomes. This is a research active hospital and paediatric intensive care is a very research active department, and I think it’s about recognising that when you do research, you develop a questioning approach to-, even if that patient, even if patients aren’t in the study, it’s part of that process of ‘can we do this better? What’s working here? What, how, you know, why? How could we do this better? Would this replicate in another patient group?’ And I think it’s also growing your workforce so that people can then write a research proposal, put it in and get funding for it. So I think research is kind of important for patient outcomes, but it’s also important for your staff development, obviously there’s the economic side of it as well, that hopefully there maybe cost improvements, and I mean it’s a sad state of affairs but that is a core driver now, ‘can we do things better and cheaper? Or do we need to do some of the things that we do? Are we doing too many interventions? Could we do less and save money?’ But I think it’s also about the way your-, I mean it could be anything from whether it’s a medication, it could be a device, it could be configuration of the service, and we’re very open to doing different types of studies, we’re not just about randomised control trials and efficacy. For us it’s about patient and family experience, and staff experience as well.

 

There remain many aspects of health care for which there is little or limited evidence and so studies are needed to develop this knowledge. NMAHPs in research are a core group of people helping to achieve this aim. The work of many NMAHPs in research is clinical in nature – involving patient support, carrying out various research activities and working with a variety of colleagues. The need to support and grow these research workforces over the next few years was recognised in two NIHR-produced strategies which were published whilst this Healthtalk.org study was being undertaken – one for research nurses, one for allied health professionals in research (see Resources).
 
There have been some important academic studies on NMAHPs in research in the UK, to find out more about their backgrounds and experiences, and promotional campaigns used to raise the profile of these roles. The Healthtalk.org resource and the underpinning study aimed to add to these activities by asking individual NMAHPs who do research from across the UK to share their experiences in interviews. Those who participated in the study covered all sorts of topics in their interviews – including how and why they first became involved in doing research, their experiences of different research activities, and the rewards as well as challenges that they have encountered. 
 
Different research roles and the people we interviewed
 
The people we interviewed for the study were mostly research NMAHPs (i.e. those employed in a research delivery role). However, we also interviewed some NMAHP researchers (i.e. those leading their own research); this group included people who were undertaking or had completed academic research qualifications, such as PhDs. Some of the NMAHP researchers had previously worked in (or continued to also work in) research delivery roles. There is a lot of confusion about the differences between the two roles, which is complicated further by the varied use of titles. Our sample reflects the real-life ‘messiness’ of differentiating between these two roles and the various ways that NMAHPs themselves are unsure of the differences. Throughout the website, we sometimes speak specifically about one of these two roles; other times, where there were shared threads of experience, and we speak in more general terms about NMAHPs ‘in research’. This means that the sections on the website are primarily about the experiences of being in research delivery roles, but sometimes also expand to include the experiences of those leading their own research.
 
In total, 45 people took part with backgrounds as nurses (n.24), midwives (n.9), and allied health professionals (n.12 - physiotherapists (n.4), radiographers (n.2), speech and language therapists (n.2), a health visitor (n.1), a podiatrist (n.1), an art psychotherapist (n.1) and a paramedic (n.1)). The NMAHPs we spoke to varied in terms of their age, sex, ethnicity and duration of time they had been working in research (from four months to 30 years). They worked in different settings (including in primary care, teaching hospitals, district general hospitals, hospices, and care homes) and on many different topics or areas of clinical importance (including on intensive care, paediatrics, fertility and pregnancy, cancer, dermatology, stroke, diabetes, and end-of-life care). You can read more detailed biographies of the individuals who took part in this study by viewing the section of People’s Profiles.
 
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