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How research has become a part of my nursing career

Advanced nurse practitioner Michelle Davies explains how her journey through research has progressed and urges others to follow in her footsteps.

Published: 04 October 2019

Find out more information on the HEE/NIHR ICA Internship scheme on the NIHR website

Author: Michelle Davies

Michelle Davies has enrolled on the HEE/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Internship scheme and is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner with the Manchester NIHR Clinical Research Facility (CRF) at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust. She is currently supporting trials for the Advanced Immune and Cell Therapy Research Team and the Experimental Cancer Medicine Team.

Michelle Davies has enrolled on the HEE-NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Programme and is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner with the Manchester NIHR Clinical Research Facility (CRF) at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust. She is currently supporting trials for the Advanced Immune and Cell Therapy Research Team and the Experimental Cancer Medicine Team.

“Clinical research is a very dynamic and exciting specialism and the benefits for patients can be absolutely fantastic,” said Michelle.

“That’s what attracted me to my first research nurse post and that’s why I’ve continued to work in clinical research. Since then I’ve never looked back.”

Training schemes

Michelle began her career as an oncology nurse in 1993. After a number of years working across a variety of oncology and haematology wards, she secured a job as a junior research nurse in malignant haematology. After a stint as a senior clinical research nurse, she became a research nurse team leader, - responsible for managing a team of research nurses, administrative staff and a large portfolio of clinical trials. This role included managing trial finances, managing the team and having oversight and responsibility for the set up and delivery of a large number of trial protocols.

In 2016 she completed a two-year MSc in Advanced Clinical Practice. Although Advanced Practitioner roles are increasingly utilised throughout healthcare, she is among just a few nurses in the UK working as an Advanced Practitioner in clinical research. It qualifies her to carry out some tasks traditionally reserved for doctors, including consenting patients to trials, prescribing treatments and carrying out clinical reviews.

Improving treatments for patients

“I would absolutely recommend a career in clinical research to anyone,” she said.

“Challenges include adjusting to a different pace of work. In clinical research everything is a lot more detailed and protocol driven with lots of acronyms to get used to. The career options for nurses and other allied health professionals in clinical research are really exciting with so many different opportunities available now.

“When I began my career as a clinical research nurse I never imagined I would be working as an advanced practitioner in research.”

Over the years Michelle has supported a variety of clinical trials, some of which have led to huge improvements for oncology and haematology patients. These include the targeted cancer drug Imatinib as well as immunotherapy treatments like checkpoint inhibitors and CAR-T therapy. 

“I’ve seen numerous clinical trials that have led to the licensing of new drugs that have made a huge difference to patients’ lives,” continued Michelle.

“Often the patients I see have no other standard treatment option available and may have been told they have limited time left to live. When you see some of those patients respond well to an experimental treatment on a clinical trial it really is phenomenal, you can’t put that feeling into words. That’s why I do my job and why I’m so passionate about research.”

Getting more involved in research

She sees research as a ‘natural evolution’ of her nursing skills and urges other nurses not to fear science and academia, saying:

“Don’t be put off by thinking that research is an alien concept. Patient centred research doesn’t always have to be really scientific or groundbreaking, sometimes the most simple ideas can have a huge impact on patients. Nurses have a real strength in research, by using their experience of working closely with patients on wards and in other clinical areas. They see first-hand the things that are really important to patients and often have the best insight and ideas on how to improve things.”

She also recommends having a good mentor – someone who has taken a similar path and can offer support.

“The NIHR has fantastic opportunities and has great resources to help people with their education and to support involvement in research either working directly in clinical research or by becoming a researcher in your own right,” She said.

Making the most of opportunities early

Her current role enables her to work clinically with patients as well as pursue her own academic work.

“If the opportunities that are available through the NIHR clinical academic pathway now were available when I was younger, I would definitely have started my clinical academic career much earlier, she says.

“I’d encourage others who are interested in non-medical research to put themselves forward for opportunities such as the HEE/NIHR Integrated clinical academic internship and to do so early on in their careers to really make the most of the opportunities available now.”

*Michelle has recently been shortlisted for two categories in the Nursing Times awards - Cancer Nursing and Nurse of the Year, for work she is leading in developing education for Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products (ATMPs). She also works as part of the Innovate Manchester Advanced Therapy Centre Hub (iMATCH) consortium. The hub is one of three Advanced Therapy Treatment Centres (ATTCs) nationally which have been funded by Innovate UK.

After completing her current HEE/NIHR ICA Internship scheme she intends to apply for a Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship to develop her own research interests.

To find out more about the campaign visit the Your Path in Research page on the NIHR website.

More information on the HEE-NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Programme is available online.

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