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Restarting research and readjusting to the ‘new normal’

Christine Comer was entering the third year of her NIHR Clinical Lectureship when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Find out about her experience and how she has found returning to her research role.

Published: 02 September 2020

Find out more about Clinical Lectureships (CL), part of the HEE/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Programme.

Christine’s experience of COVID-19

Physiotherapy Practitioner Christine Comer recently restarted her HEE/NIHR Clinical Lectureship (CL) after spending nearly four months on the front line, which proved to be a difficult but rewarding experience.

Christine was redeployed following the closure of her community-based musculoskeletal and rehabilitation service as COVID-19 escalated. This meant pausing her programme of research which focused on improving care for people with musculoskeletal problems, in particular spinal and degenerative conditions.

Instead, she was thrown into a new world of managing medications, dressing wounds, providing personal care, and administering insulin injections for vulnerable people in their own homes or care homes.

Out of her comfort zone

As a healthcare worker at Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, Christine’s natural instinct was to help, but little could prepare her for a complete change in clinical responsibilities.

I felt lucky to continue going to work and share the experience with work colleagues but my comfort zone seemed a million miles away. I made the decision to live away from home to protect my partner and daughter, so every aspect of my life was affected.

I knew I was not alone in having my world turned upside down, but that didn’t make it easy. At times I felt overwhelmed by the feeling of responsibility for the safety of my patients, work colleagues and family.

Return to research

After four months on the front line, Christine returned to her clinical academic role, which meant readjusting to a ‘new normal’.

Since her return to research, she has been planning how to prioritise progress with different workstreams. This includes trying to restart the secondments she initially set up to provide research opportunities and experience for clinical colleagues, and training and collaboration arrangements.

She is also busy supporting the ‘reset’ of a musculoskeletal service that has a patient backlog and finding new ways to provide effective patient care which has been made more challenging. Restricted access to NHS premises means that clinical consultations are mostly being provided remotely from home, supported by newly adopted digital technology.

I was relieved to return to my clinical academic role, and I am trying to adjust again, this time to a ‘new normal’. It is taking time to pick up the pieces of my research work but I’m proud to feel that as a clinical academic I now have lots to offer in the inevitably difficult times we face ahead.

Challenges have been rewarding and beneficial

Although the overall experience has proved challenging, Christine explained how it has been balanced by valuable experiences of working in a new clinical team, insight gained into the complex needs of people living at home, and exciting opportunities to implement new ways of working.

To say the last six months have been a test of resilience would be an understatement. I’ve learnt more about myself, including when I need to take time out, when I need to ask for help, and how to face each challenge with a sense of opportunity for positive change.

The support of my clinical and academic colleagues throughout these challenging times has kept me going. I am also very grateful to the NIHR for their valuable advice and guidance, and for their efforts in minimising the impact and in helping me resume my clinical academic role quickly.

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