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Case study: David Smith: Giving something back

Patient Research Ambassadors are our public champions. They help promote health research in their local communities. This voluntary position is supported by our local engagement teams.

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David answers our questions about his experience of being a Patient Research Ambassador

My name is David Smith and I am 67 years old and retired, although I do have a couple of voluntary roles that keep me busy and involved. I had a varied career from being an engineering officer in the Royal Navy, working in procurement for Shell International to working for The United Nations. I have been married to Gill for 45 years and we have two grown up sons and three grandchildren.

How did you first hear about Patient Research Ambassadors?

I have been under the care of Papworth hospital since 2010 after I had emergency surgery to repair a dissected aorta.  I have another aneurysm which is being monitored and I take part in a research project looking at the quality of life of patients such as me after having had aortic surgery. It was through this that I became aware of the PRA role.

What made you decide to become a Patient Research Ambassador?

Following my surgery I was, and remain, grateful to be alive. My survival was of course due to the great skill and care that I received from all the medical, nursing and support staff at the time. However I realise that without the research that underpinned the advances in medical science and practice my chances of survival would have been minimal.  The PRA role enables me to give something back in a way that might help others in the future.  This is important to me, as others have helped me in the past.  In addition to this I feel that as a layman and a patient I can bring a different perspective.

Why do you think NHS research is important?

Without research our ability to learn and advance is severely limited.  I am old enough to remember the medical and surgical treatment that was available in the late 50s/early 60s.  The advances since then have been nothing short of wonderful.  Things that would have been a death sentence then are now treatable and year on year great advances have been made.  None of this would have been possible without research.

What activities have you been involved with?

In the short time that I have been a PRA, I have:

  • Participated in a debrief of patients taking part in a surgical trial on Atrial Fibrillation
  • Reviewed a research project proposal from a patient perspective
  • Give a presentation to members of the public in Cambridge on the PRA role and the importance of research
  • Participated in a regional meeting of PRAs
  • Helped man the research stall for Papworth Hospital at a local village fete
  • Taken part in two studies relating to Aortic Aneurysm and a further one assessing the impact of mobile phone use on brain function

What would you say to others who are considering getting involved in research?

Not only is participation in research vital for the continued advance of medical science, it is also gives a great sense of satisfaction that you are making a contribution that might help others and if you are unfortunate enough to suffer from a medical condition it might even help you.

It is a fascinating way to participate in what is for most of us an entirely new area, different what most of us have experienced in our working lives. You meet lots of new and interesting people and it is a supportive and caring environment.