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One year on: how the NIHR Nursing and Midwifery Incubator is building research capacity

The Nursing and Midwifery Incubator is a community of professionals committed to supporting and developing the careers of nurse and midwife researchers.

Published: 21 October 2020

The challenge

Nurses and midwives make critical and unique contributions to the provision of innumerable treatments and care pathways, and often enjoy a unique perspective of this provision. Having nurses and midwives with the skills to explore the particular issues that they experience, as well as a familiarity with evidence based advancements that might be adopted by their own clinical teams, can, therefore, only serve to enhance and improve the care and experiences of service users.

However, the number of applications from nurses and midwives for NIHR personal career development awards is low, particularly at post-doctoral level. Of those who do apply, nursing and midwifery applicants have a statistically lower success rate compared to other professional groups, according to the NIHR Strategic Review of Training conducted in 2017.

How could the NIHR support the development of a skilled clinical academic research workforce across the nursing and midwifery professions?

Progress so far

The NIHR Nursing and Midwifery Incubator started in 2018 and was formalised in 2019. This is a collaborative, supportive and high profile structure for research capacity building for nurses and midwives within the NIHR and beyond. Its steering group has nurse and midwifery representation from a broad clinical practice base, academia and NHS Trusts; all members of the steering group have built highly successful research careers and so understand the challenges that exist. In addition, the Steering Group are supported by a strategic stakeholder group, comprised of professional funding bodies as well as NHS England and NHS Improvement, NHS Trusts and University sectors, all with an interest in nurse and midwife led research.

Heather Iles-Smith, Chair of the Nursing and Midwifery Incubator says,

“The Nursing and Midwifery Incubator is a fantastic initiative and has galvanised significant effort from numerous University and NHS colleagues to move forward the clinical academic careers (CAC) and roles agenda for nurses and midwives.”

Research training opportunities are available through the HEE/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Programme and NIHR Fellowships programme. But the incubator is ensuring nurses and midwives are supported and informed when accessing these opportunities and understand what is available.

For example, a pilot Masterclass was held in Leeds in February 2020 for the NIHR’s Pre-doctoral Clinical Academic Fellowship (PCAF) scheme. This focused on the Medical Research Council (MRC) Complex Interventions Framework and included an overview of the NIHR ICA scheme, guidance on how to formulate a suitable research question and writing for publication. The Masterclass was attended by those who had successfully been awarded a PCAF, supported by their academic supervisors or mentors during the training. Due to the success of the event, a further Masterclass is planned for late 2020.

An online community was launched in October 2019 on the platform NIHR Learn. This hosts information and resources, a noticeboard for developments and opportunities, and a forum for discussion, networking and collaboration. Since its launch there is a growing interest in knowledge sharing on the platform with the forums being a particularly popular feature.

The incubator is also supporting those who supervise and assist aspiring nursing and midwifery academics. This ‘community of practice’ enables effective networking and relevant knowledge sharing.

Heather says,

“Our work is about supporting nurses and midwives at all levels of the ICA pathway as well as supporting their academic supervisors and managers to understand what good looks like and how they can better support applicants.”

Just the beginning

By 2024 the Nursing and Midwifery Incubator hopes to have increased research capacity and capability in the nursing and midwifery workforce. In particular the Incubator is aiming to increase the number of applications from nurses and midwives to all NIHR personal award schemes by 20% over a 5 year period and improve the success rate of nursing applications to NIHR personal awards to be in line with other clinical professions over a period of 5 years. The Incubator also hopes to increase the spread of clinical academic nurses and midwives across a range of health and social care settings.

The Incubator is still in its infancy and has plenty more to deliver to achieve these aims. It is working closely with the Council of Deans, the Royal Colleges, Applied Research Collaborations and the NIHR’s 70@70 nurse programme. Over the coming months and years, the Incubator will focus on:

  • promoting opportunities for clinical academic careers early in the careers of nurses and midwives, including undergraduate students
  • establishing a Clinical Academic Careers Advisory Service in collaboration with the NIHR Research Design Service (RDS), to enable aspiring nurses or midwives to gain access to credible and consistent advice and support in order to make an informed decision and navigate a clinical academic career transition
  • providing training on what makes a good research question for NIHR funding and developing regional advisory sessions for potential applicants.

Heather says,

“I am delighted to Chair this group. There is a real will and energy to transform access to clinical academic careers for nurses and midwives.”

Find out more about the NIHR Nursing and Midwifery Incubator. 

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